'Caring' Community Restores A Vandalized Church

Building Now Has Fresh Paint, Flowers And Iron Bars

October 09, 1991|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff writer

Two months ago, while Simpson's United Methodist Church members wereon edge over the appearance of Ku Klux Klan rallies in town, someoneransacked the church and tried to burn it down.

It was perhaps the worst day in the nearly all-black congregation's 98-year history, atime when some parishioners said they felt betrayed in their own community.

But on Saturday, about 50 volunteers tried to restore the small Mount Airy church back to its former luster, providing it with everything from a new coat of paint to a newly paved driveway -- and this time the windows have wrought-iron bars.

"It's a shame, but we had to bar the windows and put strong locks on the doors," said the Rev. Jane W. Jenkins, pastor of the congregation. "It's too bad when you have to try to keep people out of the church."

Fear among the congregation spread quickly this summer after the church was struck on three different nights by vandals. On Aug. 18, vandals set the church's front doors on fire after turning on a gas stove in the basement.

Along with the new security measures, the volunteers from United Methodist churches throughout the area worked all Saturday to provide cosmetic improvements for the church.

Flowers were planted, weeds wereremoved and every room of the building was cleaned and mopped. Electrical and plumbing repairs also were completed, Jenkins said.

"I was overwhelmed. Saturday was a good day for healing," she said. "The community showed us that we are not alone."

The recent vandalism had hit Simpson's 50 parishioners hard, particularly in light of recent recruitment efforts by area KKK representatives. Some church members were even afraid to attend a local anti-KKK rally, parishioner Kevin Myers says.

"We're just a little black church on the hill. We didn't want to get burned down," said Myers, 29, whose family has attended Simpson's for more than 30 years.

But now, Myers said, the church has bounced back -- perhaps stronger than ever -- thanks to community support and even some pockets of outrage against racial and religious hatred.

Among the volunteers were local residents and parishioners from nearby Methodist churches, including Lisbon, St. Paul, Jennings Chapel, Poplar Springs and Goshen.

Myers said the church's fresh appearance parallels a fresh perspective on the church and its role in the lives of members.

"A lot of people have been coming back to church. I think their eyes have been opened a little wider because of this," Myers said. "People aren't as afraid anymore. We may still be just a little black church on the hill, but we see people supporting us like we're all one race. It's been beautiful."

The volunteers hope to return to the Hardy Road church again Saturday, said the Rev. Harry C. Kiely of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Laytonsville.

"We're going well beyond just fixing up the church. It's a way of showing some solidarity with Simpson's and to let the communityknow that we will support them through this kind of trouble," Kiely said.

Simpson's church is on a former farm that was donated to black sharecroppers in 1893. Most of the parishioners come from a predominantly black neighborhood along Schaeffersville Road in Mount Airy.

Police say the break-ins were committed by three white teen-agers who got carried away during late-night drinking binges. The three, arrested in August, allegedly burned a Bible and defaced the building with human blood.

While there is still no proof that the incidents were racially motivated -- police say the suspects awaiting trial apparently were unaware that the congregation is mostly black -- Kiely and others say a strong message needs to be delivered nonetheless.

"This is a tiny black church. I think they're pretty scared," Kiely said. "We want to show them we're on their side and to say, 'This isn't right, and we're not going to be quiet about it.' "

The Rev. Scott Medlock, pastor of Lisbon United Methodist, an all-white congregation, said racial concern was not his primary motivation in helping Simpson's.

He called the help a Christian gesture "that I hope we would do for any church that found themselves in the same situation. Itdoesn't matter whether it's a small white church or a small black church, the point is that it's been a real blow to them."

Joseph H. Yeakel, presiding bishop of the Baltimore conference of the United Methodist Church, of which Simpson's is a part, called the vandalism "wanton and needless trashing."

But religious and community members should try to use the incident to better themselves, Yeakel said.

"I believe this tragic incident offers us all an opportunity to try to build together a community characterized by justice and mutual caring," Yeakel said.

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