It’s hard to scrub spray paint off a 110-year-old church.
You could still see the graffiti — the scribbles and 666s someone had scrawled across the door, the brick walls, the welcome sign — when the congregation arrived at Judson Memorial Baptist Church to worship Sunday morning.
Tagged with the mark of the beast, this small Minneapolis congregation responded with grace, humor and empathy. The mark of the best.
“If the person who did this would confess or come forward, we don’t want to press charges,” said Judson Pastor Travis Norvell. “We would like to get them into an art class.”
There was so much paint spattered across the church sign that Norvell suspected they were dealing with a frustrated artist. Or maybe a frustrated copy editor.
“OK, it was kind of a boring church sign,” he joked.
The vandalized sign had a perfectly nice message: “Help us weave justice & spirituality.”
But as the church website noted: “The pastor … tries, honestly he does, to come up with clever and meaningful phrases. God bless him, he went to seminary and earned a Master of Divinity, not a Master in Fine Arts.”
Norvell has sermons to write and graffiti solvent to research, so he’s asking for help. Judson is going to need a fresh message for the church sign. The congregation had a few suggestions:
“666 Problems, But Graffiti Ain’t One.”
“Sermons so good … Satan doesn’t want you to see them.”
“Graffiti for the Seeking Soul.”
Judson Baptist celebrates its 110th anniversary next month, and Norvell is hoping to collect enough messages to brighten up the church sign for a full year. The church is offering $10 gift certificates to the Butter Bakery Cafe for the 11 best.
If you enjoy wordplay and baked goods, send your pitch to the pastor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On its website, the church posted a message to the perpetrator: No hard feelings.
“We want to help you,” the note said. “If you come forward, we will pay the cost for you to take an art class through Minneapolis Community Education.”
Last Sunday, Norvell talked to the children in the congregation about the vandalism.
He showed them a can of spray paint and they debated how Mister Rogers would handle a situation like this.
Mister Rogers, the kids decided, wouldn’t want an attack from outside to change who they are on the inside.
Mister Rogers would want them to be kind.
“We don’t want to be known as a mean church that seeks revenge,” Norvell said.
One bad experience, he said, has led to a lot of good.
The church’s neighbors in quiet Kingfield rushed in with offers to help with graffiti removal. Some came over to try to scrub away the damage.
Paint still marred the church brick on Thursday, a week after the vandalism.
“But there is this,” Norvell said in a note Thursday. “The constant joy of watching the faces of people, which are all tight and frowny when they ask about the incident, and watch[ing] them loosen up and smile when I tell them about the contest and gift certificates to Butter Bakery.”
The experience, he told the children on Sunday, gave them a chance to get to know their neighbors a little better, “and maybe give someone a reason to chuckle.”