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‘Message of love’: Church holds community service in response to vandalism

Church holds community service in response to vandalism

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Jenny Deephouse, council president of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, cleans a vandalized church sign during a community service outside the church Sunday morning.

HOUGHTON — The need to respond to an act of vandalism brought people to the front lawn of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Houghton Sunday morning. But Pastor Sarah Semmler Smith was clear: It was a celebration.

“This is a moment where we are relearning what our mission is to the community, and reclaiming what it means to be a welcoming community to all,” she said.

Five days after the sign outside the church was defaced, more than 60 people helped clean the sign and update its message at a community service Sunday morning.

Since before Mother’s Day, the sign had carried the message “God loves you just the way She made you.”

On Tuesday, someone painted an addition: “Screwtape,” prefaced with a dash to indicate authorship. It was an apparent reference to C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters,” a satirical novel written in the form of a demon bureaucrat in hell advising how to tempt someone into damnation.

When Smith saw the sign Tuesday morning, her first response was one of “sadness and humiliation.” As she heard back from friends and clergy members, that sadness turned into a sense of solidarity.

She was able to center herself, finding humor in the idea of “educated vandals.” Her creativity came back, leading to the idea for Sunday’s service.

“When we’re so rooted in the grace of God and the theology of grace, that openness to others and openness to dialog, that becomes our superpower,” she said. “So today I just wanted to pause and invite anyone who wanted to come help us erase the hate from our sign, and even just ask ‘What kind of a community do we want to be? … Do we want to be about ignorance or openness? Do we want to be about acts done in the night, or conversations that we have in the day? Do we want to be about fear-based judgment of another, or grace that gives one another the benefit of the doubt again and again and again?”

As many in the crowd sang songs, people erased the last remnants of the painted message.

People also came forward to swap in letters for the church’s latest message.

The top line — “God loves you” — remained the same. But a succession of people helped add the letters of the new addition — “Happy Pride!”

“As we move into this Pride month, I hope we can find ways to continue to advocate for others, for those especially that might have been pushed to the margins historically,” Smith said.

She also encouraged attendance at the Pride Parade taking place at Michigan Technological University’s campus, starting at the Gateway Arch at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Jenny Deephouse, Good Shepherd’s council president, said Sunday’s service was important to let people know they are welcome. She was grateful for the turnout.

“I know when Pastor Sarah and the council and I first learned of this, there was a lot of emotion, and then we remembered that we love, and we accept, and you can’t fight hate with hate,” she said. “You have to fight fear with love. We won’t even call it hate, we’ll just call it fear.”

Emily Falker of Houghton came to support people in the community and because she wanted to hear how the church would respond to Tuesday’s vandalism.

“I think it was lovely,” she said. “Spreading that message of love instead of retaliation, I think, is the way that a lot of things should be approached in this world, so it was very nice to see the community come together like this.”

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