By Paula Schlueter Ross
Vandals broke into St. John Lutheran Church in North Branch, Minn., over Labor Day weekend and left a host of frightening messages:
A doll from the church’s preschool was hung by a noose made from the pastor’s cincture. The pastor’s alb was stained with coffee and a liquid, possibly urine. Vulgar sexual phrases and a “666” were spray-painted on a wall and a table in the preschool.
Communion wafers were scattered on the floor of the sanctuary amid trashed books and other items.
Chocolate syrup was poured over the keys of the organ. Feminine-hygiene products were stuck in various places, including the missal stand. Paint was poured on Bibles. And the vandals had “signed” the guest register with vulgar words.
There were “a lot of hate messages,” acknowledged St. John Pastor Kevin C. Zellers, and the destruction was “pretty traumatic” for congregation members, he said.
But “the people have been quite resolute getting things back together,” Zellers added, and the congregation met for worship in the church the very next weekend.
“It was something we vowed from early on,” he said. The destruction “was not going to disrupt services in any way.”
“God is still in control,” he said, and the destruction involved “only things. The church goes on.”
Zellers estimated damages at between $60,000 and $100,000, and said insurance is expected to cover most of the church’s losses. The crime is still under investigation, he said, and the culprits remain at large.
As this Reporter went to press, cleanup of the sanctuary, pastor’s study, preschool, fellowship hall, nursery and kitchen was almost complete. The facilities are “even nicer than before all this happened,” Zellers said.
Even though the vandals, if caught, will have to face the consequences of their actions through the community’s legal system, Zellers says he and St. John members will forgive them.
“That’s what we’re about,” the pastor said. “God has forgiven us. We will forgive them.”
He asked Synod members to remember the church in their prayers and to also pray for those who vandalized the church.
Posted Oct. 4, 2004