|Donated quilts cover some of the damaged pews at Bethlehem Lutheran Church.|
The first couple of incidents were break-ins with glass shattered in children’s classrooms, says Pastor Dan Roschke.
Then on June 26, church members found all the glass and candle holders around the prayer station in the sanctuary were broken and the cushions on every pew, all the choir chairs, and the pastor’s chair were slashed by a box cutter or knife, Roschke says.
“Even worse,” he says, “the white walls in front of the sanctuary were covered with racist and anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas, including the N word, the F word, the worst things you can imagine.”
Roschke had just been hired and relocated from San Diego, and that was the day he took his family to tour the church. “It was really painful and frightening,” he says.
To cover up the damage, members of Bethlehem Lutheran, other churches, and interfaith and community groups have donated quilts to cover the pews until they can be repaired. The quilts are needed, Roschke says, so children won’t have to see the damage.
The “Interfaith Community Response to the Words and Actions of Hate,” as the July 25 event is described, will feature prayers from Rev. Darcy Tilllman, dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Fairfax Conference; a representative from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society; and a rabbi from the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.
“We will share videos about racism and violence and how to be a peaceful community,” Roschke says. Any religious leader in the room will be invited to stand and offer a shared blessing.
The police are investigating the hate crimes but haven’t made an arrest. The church didn’t have surveillance cameras during the incidents but installed them later.
In April 2017, the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia and the Little River United Church of Christ – both on Little River Turnpike near Bethlehem Lutheran Church – were attacked with racist and anti-Semitic graffiti. Dylan Mahone, a 20-year-old resident of the Camelot community in Annandale, was arrested the following day.
Roschke doesn’t have any idea why his church would be targeted. Bethlehem is a “traditionally welcoming congregation” and has recently been designated a “Reconciling in Christ” Lutheran church, which means it actively encourages participation by LGBTQ individuals and families. The recent attack didn’t target gay or trans people, however.
The pastor appreciates the outpouring of support the church has received since the incidents. In addition to the many quilts received, other religious institutions sent messages of support. Members of the youth group at the Little River United Church of Christ made get well cards for the congregation, and the children at Bethlehem wrote them thank you notes.
“It’s wonderful to see the love from the community,” he says. “The community reached out to us and made sure we are not alone.”