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A church's weapon against vandals: Reach out rather than fence in
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Members of Grace Episcopal Church in Randolph, N.Y., recently had their building tagged with the words "Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?"

Rather than paint over the graffiti, the congregants let it stay and spray-painted their own response: "God loves you with no exceptions!"

The picture has circulated on Facebook and Twitter, generating buzz about how churches relate to surrounding communities.

While some have criticized the church members, they should be commended for seizing the opportunity to reach out.

Churches too often move into neighborhoods and do nothing to affect those around them. Christians sometimes forget that a primary focus should be on the people outside our churches.

More than two years ago, our church moved to Kearns and built a new edifice amid hundreds of homes. The area is sometimes marred by gang activity. Several times during construction, our building was tagged with gang symbols. After repainting the walls for the fourth time, it dawned on us that we needed to show our neighbors that it was not us vs. them; we intended to be part of the community. As a gesture of trust, we removed our fence. We staged free family events on our lawn and distributed food and clothing.

We've had no graffiti since.

But even if a church is making a positive impact, there can be opposition. On Tuesday evening, the lights illuminating our outdoor cross were vandalized. Such crimes are disheartening. It's also tempting to judge an entire area on the actions of a few. But we've had great experiences in our neighborhood; this was our first incident in two years.

Like Grace Episcopal, we have come to realize that the defacing of a building can be a symptom of a larger problem in a community. We are a spiritual entity, but we fail in our Christian duty if we overlook the social and physical needs.

Damage to our edifice can be repaired. God placed us here to help resolve much more difficult social and spiritual issues — which will require patience, love, fortitude and, above all, prayer.

Contact Corey J. Hodges, pastor of New Pilgrim Baptist Church, at coreyjhodges@comcast.net.

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