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Church defaced by dark, repaired by dusk

Minister more concerned for vandals than about the vandalism

Posted: December 7, 2011 - 12:03am
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Black spray paint graffiti on the Alersgate United Methodist Church front door on Cinema Drive Tuesday morning.
Black spray paint graffiti on the Alersgate United Methodist Church front door on Cinema Drive Tuesday morning.

A couple of ugly, spray painted swastikas, and other tags that referenced drugs and the devil, aren’t going to steal the Christmas spirit from one local church.

When the Rev. Susan Beogli discovered vandals hit Aldersgate United Methodist early Tuesday morning, she said her first emotion was sadness. Not for herself, nor the church crew that spent hours scrubbing off “666” from the church’s front door, but for the well-being of the vandal or vandals.

“Honestly, my first reaction was how sad I felt for folks who just have that kind of hatred,” she said. “It’s the Christmas season, and I wondered how much peace can this individual, or these individuals, really have in their life.”

Aldersgate has been tagged by vandals several times in its 20 to 25 year history — a few times with spray paint, other times with paint balls. And there’s always the occasional shattering of the glass windows with a BB gun. But this instance was the worst yet, said Keith Pahlke, chairman of Aldergate’s board of trustees.

A three-foot high swastika was painted on the church building’s white garage door, “easily visible” from the road, he said, and “420” was painted on the side of the garage that houses the church van. The numbers “666” were painted on the church’s front door as well as on plastic sign out near the church’s entrance.

Someone called the Juneau Police Department just past 1 a.m. Tuesday to report the vandalism, Beogli and Pahlke said, and JPD said in a statement that an investigation determined Aldersgate was the only church that was tagged.

Pahlke doesn’t suspect that the vandals, whoever they are, were motivated by religious intolerance. Instead he jokingly criticized their message for being “incoherent” and said he found the paint “more irritating than shocking.”

“They did three separate things,” he said. “If you interpret it at face value, they were pot-smoking Nazi satanic worshippers. No, I think they’re just painting whatever will shock people the most.”

He added, “It was probably more surprising that on a wet Monday, people were out vandalizing things,” he said.

All it took to remove the spray paint was “ a little paint thinner and elbow grease,” he said. It could have been a lot worse if Tuesday evening hadn’t been rainy and damp, he noted.

“It didn’t take long,” he said. “Fortunately when you paint on a wet surface, it doesn’t stick very well.”

At the end of the day, the only thing that really bothered Pahlke was that someone intended to damage church property.

“I never understood property damage,” he said, “crossing that line between playing a joke and damaging people’s private property.”

He’s also thankful that not many people probably saw the tags, except for the few people walking and driving by, and probably the parents who dropped their preschoolers off for day care at the church in the morning, he said.

Beogli was just recently appointed to the church in July of this year after being assigned to a church in Eugene, Ore.

She said the experience actually ended up being an oddly, unintentional positive thing. She says so many in the community, both church and non-church related, have called her to express their sympathies and to ask what they can do to help.

“I’m just so taken by how much the community, faith-based and others, have been calling me, and reaching out,” she said. “I was just like, ‘Wow, this is really cool! I am so grateful how the community has responded. That has really taken me a new Juneau resident, it really makes me feel proud to now be a part of this community.”

She says she has only one message for the vandals: “Next time you’re in the vicinity, come in. Our logo is open hearts, open minds and open doors, come in.”

The police investigation is still ongoing, and anyone with knowledge of the incident is encouraged to call JPD at 500-0600 or visit juneaucrimeline.com.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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