March 16, 2016
Dear Grace Community,
Greetings from maternity leave! John and I are enjoying Alice and look forward to introducing her to you. We think she’s wonderful, and we’re sure you’ll agree.
I talked briefly to a church member the other day who asked me if I was thinking a lot about the church. Truthfully, I told her, some days I can’t remember if I’ve brushed my teeth, so I haven’t been able to put too much energy into church matters. (Being a new parent is not for the faint of heart!) I’m grateful for our staff and volunteers who are capably handling things in my absence.
I’m writing to say hello and to address the vandalism that was done to our church buildings over the weekend. In multiple places around the outside of the building and garage, someone spray-painted the words “Refugees Welcome.” I learned about this when one of our elders put some pictures on Facebook. Like her, I was perplexed, and went by the church to see it and to talk with our Executive Pastor, Martin Burch, about it.
My first reaction to the graffiti was anger. I’m protective of our church and don’t like that it was defaced. Regardless as to the message, this was a crime, and it will cost money to remove. Beyond my anger I was confused. Was the message an insult, a compliment? Did the vandal think we were too welcoming, not welcoming enough?
A couple of years ago, Grace member, Cheryl Lyda, and I visited some agencies in town that work with refugees. Cheryl was discerning a personal call to get involved in the refugee community, and we wondered if there might be a place for our congregation to serve.
Cheryl began volunteering with the International Rescue Committee, and last fall she formed a team at Grace to engage with refugees. In December, along with several other churches, we hosted a dinner for the Wichita refugee community. Many of you participated in this event. This spring we’re collecting household items for refugees, and this summer we’ll invite the refugee community to our annual pool party and cookout.
Last fall, at the same time our plans were being made, the Syrian refugee crisis began to unfold in horrifying images on our TVs and computers as a hot button issue at the national and state level. While many churches spoke out about the political nature of this crisis, I did not think our congregation needed to make a verbal statement because our actions spoke for us. We already approach refugees hearing Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:41, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Extending a warm welcome to people forced from their homes is an act of Christian hospitality and speaks loudly.
As a congregation, we continue to speak with our actions. I hope you’ll participate by donating items for refugee families during April. Come to the pool party this summer and talk with someone who is trying to make Wichita their new home. Find out when our refugee team meets again and join them.
And about the practical side of things, our defaced buildings? Likely we’ll never know why this was done. As with all facility matters, I trust Martin Burch and Tim Fry to wisely discern cleanup. Martin knows the big picture of all building matters better than anyone, and Tim knows the day-to-day workings. I know that if needed Martin will consult with our Board of Trustees or Session.
As troubling as this graffiti is, I hope that we might use this time to pray for our brothers and sisters who seek to make Wichita their new home. And I encourage us to pray for those who vandalized our buildings, that they might have changed hearts.