With the right mindset, an area church put a positive spin on an unfortunate event after its building was vandalized early Monday morning.
Several accounts of vandalism, specifically graffiti, were reported early Monday morning in the hamlet of Randolph, including one instance on the Grace Episcopal Church, located at 21 N. Washington St., Randolph. The message, which reads, "Can I still get to heaven if I kill myself," was scrawled across the side of the church with blue spray paint. Rather than simply paint over the message or remove it immediately, however, the church took a creative approach to dealing with the situation.
"We took a day of consideration so that we would be responding and not just reacting," said Tom Broad, priest at Grace Episcopal Church. "We found that many of the places in town that were vandalized were simply painting over the writing. As we saw that message, though, we saw that it was a real cry of anguish and despair, and it was a valid theological question. Whoever did this wasn't just defacing the church."
According to Broad, church officials talked about addressing the incident in multiple different forums, including a letter to the editor in The Post-Journal, but ultimately decided that responding in the same manner as the original message would be the most effective strategy.
"When looking at how to address this, my question was whether or not the person or people that did this would even read a letter to the editor placed in a local newspaper. We decided that responding in kind would not only answer that person, but for every person that would do something like this, there are probably hundreds of people struggling with the same questions or feelings. We realized that instead of just the message being directed at one person, we could help many people."
Despite the unorthodox approach, church officials decided that the question posed on the exterior of the building needed a visible and public response. Because of that decision, the Grace Episcopal Church replied with a second message on the wall, stating that "God loves you with no exceptions!"
Nobody has come forward in person to church officials yet to take responsibility for the incident, but according to Broad, much of his day on Tuesday was spent responding to messages and comments on Facebook, and two people have come forward through social media confessing their involvement.
"It's amazing how social media works these days," said Broad. "We had people that were identified as being connected to this crime specifically because of social media."
Several other areas in Randolph were also defaced, including a Catholic church, a pet store, and a mail box.
The words that were written on Grace Episcopal Church appear to be lyrics from the song "King Park (Wildlife)" by La Dispute, but Broad still felt that the response created by the church was proper and necessary.
"Hopefully whoever did this will see the message and begin to think about their life and where things are going," said Broad. "Our response was to not treat it so much as something awful that we needed to cover over, but as an opportunity to minister to a person that maybe was hurting, and also to the wider world that may be looking for answers. Hopefully this is the beginning of something and the blossoming of a new understanding in the community of us all being connected and God being right in the middle of all of us."
This is the second incidence of vandalism that has taken place at Grace Episcopal Church in less than one week. Late last week, the church was the victim of an apparent arson attempt. Church officials found damage to the handicap entrance of the church, where a significant portion of the door frame and moulding were burned away.
The Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Office could not be reached for comments regarding the incident.