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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Vandalized church invites community to interfaith 'United Against Hate' service

Donated quilts cover some of the damaged pews at Bethlehem Lutheran Church.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, which has been hit by seven incidents of vandalism and hateful graffiti in recent weeks, invites the community to an interfaith United Against Hate service Wednesday, July 25, 7:30 p.m. The church is on the western edge of Annandale, at 8922 Little River Turnpike.

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.”


  1. Thank you for sharing this! This behavior disgusts me. The fascists are certainly bold these days.
    I made a donation to the church to help with repair/cleanup costs. Everyone should do the same, if they are financially able.

  2. I am so appalled by the ugliness that America has exhibited as of late. It is so sad.

  3. This is just disgusting and disappointing. I always believed America was better than this. Can you make a donation online? I would love to donate.

    1. Our current federal political leadership has set the tone, example and thus the sheep follow into a hellhole. America is better than that, so lets make America great again and vote the fools out.

  4. I'm sorry that Pastor Roschke and his congregation are having to go through this.

    This is just plain wrong. It disgusts me that anyone would have the twisted desire to do so much damage, and it baffles me that they would actually spend their time and energy on it! I hope the vandal(s) gets caught and the church never has to deal with something like this again.

  5. Yes, you can! You can visit us at blclife(.)org. The donate button should be on the left side of our home page. We really appreciate it!

  6. I see some of you are blaming Trump because of this please give me one example of when Trump and ever spoke badly or asked for violence against churchs. Trump supports Churchs and Religion.