Love Replaces Hate in Bean Blossom
December 1, 2016In the twilight, I waited my turn in line to scrub the swastika off of the church. The temperature was dropping and I wished I had remembered to bring my gloves. There were two other lines of scrubbers: one to remove “Heil Trump”, and the other to remove the words “Fag Church”. A local TV news crew was there with a beautifully coiffed reporter bouncing up and down on her toes to stay warm between takes. Cleaning the hate speech off of the church walls began after the Rector first led us in prayer, “Tonight we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing as we wash these symbols of division and evil from this church building and also from our own hearts.” A surprisingly short time later, the spray-painted graffiti was gone, and we celebrated, singing Amazing Grace as we processed into the little church’s sanctuary for a candlelit service of healing.
St. David’s in Bean Blossom, Indiana, is a small Episcopal Church, in my own Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis. St. David’s gained national news attention when the church building was defaced shortly after the presidential election. I must admit to being nervous on the drive to St. David’s and I was glad for the company of my friend and Curate, the Reverend Lea Colville. Bean Blossom is a tiny little town in rural Brown County Indiana. And Brown County is known for three things: beautiful countryside, antique stores, and a history with the Klan. Yep, the Ku Klux Klan.
As a free state next door to the slave state of Kentucky, Indiana was one of the major routes on the Underground Railroad. Slaves would cross the Ohio River to escape north. Tragically, sometimes Hoosiers friendly to the slave states would capture the escaped slaves and return them down South. I suppose that history explains in part the presence of the Klan in Southern Indiana. Today, despite efforts of towns like nearby Martinsville to move beyond their notorious past of holding Klan rallies, there remains a sense of danger as one travels the county’s rural roads that belies the natural beauty of the countryside.
I had brought “Mary and Joseph” down to Bean Blossom with me. During advent, the dolls make their way through my church congregation, each night staying with a different household. It’s a festive, joyful practice, and we love posting social media photos of all the activities that Mary and Joseph witness: tree decorating, choir recitals, and now, scrubbing hate speech off of a church wall. I had welcomed M&J to my Yogadevotion class at church, the night before the journey to Bean Blossom. Earlier, calling the next household on the list to receive them, I explained that I would need to drop off M&J early as I was heading down to St. David’s. But the mom at the other end of the call protested saying, “I think Mary and Joseph need to go to Bean Blossom. I’ll let the kids stay up late. And we’ll see you later tonight.” So Mary and Joseph went to St. David’s with me where they were greeted with curiosity and big smiles. Later that evening, back in Indianapolis, they were handed over to two excited, pajama-clad youngsters, who had been staying up past their bedtime to receive the holy visitors.
Need I say it? The healing service at St. David’s was deeply moving. We lit candles on the altar to symbolize light driving out darkness, love driving out hate. And I found myself clutching the two soft dolls to me, my eyes not the only ones tearing, as we sang, “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul.” The Holy Spirit was present and dancing among us—the emotion was alive and true.
Afterwards, we all crowded into the parish hall for a chili potluck dinner prepared by the members of St. David’s. I met a Presbyterian Pastor from Columbus, Indiana, there with his two boys to take a hand in the cleaning. I reflected on the lovely words in the Prayer for Peace, adapted from the Sim Shalom prayer book and offered to the service by the Rabbi Brian Besser, from Congregation Beth Shalom in nearby Bloomington, Indiana. I met members of St. David’s, who greeted me again and again with, “Thank you so much for coming. It means a lot to us.” But I was especially moved by my conversation with Gene, an elderly, white-haired member of Saint David’s. He introduced himself, thanked us for coming and shared his story. “When this horrible thing happened, I was so upset, that at first I didn’t want to come back to church. But since then we have received messages of support and love from all over the world. It has revived my faith in mankind.” He then pointed out the pieces of paper, taped all over the walls of the church, each containing a message of support. There were hundreds.
I am so grateful to the parish of St. David’s for the invitation to witness and take part in the cleaning and healing of their church. I came away with a part of me healed as well, that I didn’t even know needed healing, and with a lesson to tuck away in my heart. Healing doesn’t happen in isolation. Healing happens in community. Healing happens when we listen and when we show up. Healing happens when we invite others into our pain. Healing happens when strangers send messages of love from the other side of the planet. Healing happens when we eat supper together, light candles, and sing. Healing happens when we grab a brush and scrub.
God bless St. David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom, Indiana and all who choose to return hate with love.