An act of vandalism has stunned the congregation at Lawrence Indian United Methodist Church in Kansas.
Either late Sept. 6 or very early Sept. 7, someone used a bench outside the building to climb onto the church’s roof and sawed off the church’s cross-and-flame logo. As the wooden cross with a metallic United Methodist flame attached plummeted to the ground, it punctured a hole in the roof and severely damaged gutters.
Pastor Jami Moss was among the first people from the church to discover the damage.
“I was frustrated and devastated. I thought, ‘how and why would anybody do this?’” she said. “I thought, ‘This is a statement: I intentionally did this to hurt you.’”
Lawrence, Kansas, police are investigating the vandalism. No arrests had been made and no charges filed as of the evening of Sept. 9. Authorities are asking residents and businesses in the area of the church, 950 E. 21st St., if they have any video surveillance equipment that may have captured footage of the vandal or vandals. Anyone with information is asked to call the Lawrence Police Department’s investigations department at 785-830-7465.
Moss said the building’s location on a relatively busy street and the church’s lighting system lead her to believe whoever damaged the building must have studied the building and its security measures. The person or persons had to know when security lights would be activated to allow the perpetrator or perpetrators to do their work in the cover of darkness.
Lawrence Indian United Methodist Church serves mostly Native Americans in the area and is part of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC), a grouping of congregations rich in Native American cultures unified by Wesleyan theology. The vast majority of congregations are based in Oklahoma, but others are located in Kansas, Texas and Missouri.
Lawrence Indian UMC has been known by that name since 1990, but its history predates the expansion of the OIMC beyond the Oklahoma borders. A religious fellowship focused on Native Americans started in Lawrence in the 1950s. The church was chartered March 17, 1963, and the congregation worshiped for the first time in its current location – approximately one mile from Haskell Indian Nations University – in November 1970.
The Rev. Dr. David Wilson, superintendent of the OIMC, said he was saddened to hear about the vandalism at the church in Lawrence.
“Whether a random act of destruction, or something more sinister directed specifically toward the Native American community, we will keep our perpetrators in prayer,” Wilson said. “We are thankful for the many who have offered to repair the damage and who have shown love and support to our native brothers and sisters in this challenging time. Please keep our parishioners in prayer as they move forward, undeterred, with the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Moss said the community is rallying behind the congregation. Someone already has volunteered to repair the roof. And just a day after the vandalism was discovered, police officers showed up in larger-than-usual numbers at an Indian taco fundraiser the church hosts each month to raise money to help meet its budget.
The church is still determining the actual costs it will have in repairing the damage.
Joel Hernandez, a member of the church, started attending worship and other events there in the early 1980s, when his mother moved their family to Lawrence.
“To me this is a special place because I’m the child of a single parent,” he said. “When my mother came to school at Haskell in the ’80s, she sought out help. This church gave her support and guidance.”
Hernandez said this is not the first time the church has been damaged. He estimated that about five years ago, someone spray-painted graffiti on exterior walls of the church and equipment in an adjacent playground. That time, the church had to clean up swastikas, curse words and images of vulgar hand signals.
Hernandez said as difficult as seeing the cross laying on the ground was for him, elders in the congregation are helping set a positive tone.
“It really hurts, but people here are trying not to let it affect them,” Hernandez said. “One of our senior members was telling us while we were preparing the Indian tacos that we have to keep doing what we are doing, and we have to pray for whoever did this.
“That helped me a lot.”
Moss said her congregation may need more financial help to fix the damage once more information about repair costs are determined, but for now, she wants the congregation and community to know that the church will continue to serve its mission field. She shared a message to whomever played a role in vandalizing the church.
“You may have knocked us down,” Moss said, “but you haven’t knocked us out yet.”
Contact Todd Seifert, conference communications director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.