Hamilton

Ancaster church responds to repeated vandalism with forgiveness and open doors

Meadowlands Fellowship Church has been vandalized four times in the past five weeks. Now members are planning to take part in Open Doors Hamilton and to host a public meeting about community safety.

Meadowlands Fellowship Church is planning a meeting about crime in the community on May 7

Steve Dykstra stands by a piece of plywood used to cover the front door at Meadowlands Fellowship Church after it was smashed. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

Worshippers at Meadowlands Fellowship Church want whoever has repeatedly smashed their glass front doors to try walking through them instead.

The Ancaster church has been vandalized four times in the past five weeks, according to program director Steve Dykstra, who said in each incident, glass windows and doors were shattered, but no property was taken.

Police spokesperson, Jerome Stewart, confirmed detectives are investigating the incidents and probing other nearby acts of vandalism for connections. So far, no arrests have been made. 

A large piece of plywood now covers the large hole at the church left behind by a rock. It might lead passersby to assume the building is closed, but a closer look reveals messages of welcome scrawled in permanent marker.

Members of the church wrote messages of welcome and forgiveness on the wood after the church was vandalized. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

The church is reacting to the destruction, not by putting up barriers, but by becoming more open than ever.

"It felt natural for us as a church community that believes in hope and love and forgiveness that that would be our hallmark of how we wanted to respond to this," Dykstra explained.

The handwritten messages of love and forgiveness are only one part of that reaction. The other is participating in Open Doors Hamilton for the first time next weekend and hosting a community meeting on safety on May 7.

The church is taking part in Open Doors Hamilton this weekend and hosting a community meeting about safety on May 7. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Dykstra said the church is hoping to accomplish two things:

"The first is to demonstrate that love is a better response than fear and hope is a better response than isolation," he explained. "More broadly, we are a part of this community and we want to be engaged as a member of this community."

Preschool parents support church

The church also rents space to a preschool and music program.

Tina Lewis and Kelly Ace run the Higher Learning Montessori Preschool and said parents dropping their kids off on recent mornings obviously had questions about crews cleaning up shards of glass.

In at least one of the incidents, it appears someone came inside the church after breaking in through the front door. Ace and Lewis came in to find a set of chairs that had been tossed around and a coffee table thrown through a window looking in on the sanctuary.

"The children, unfortunately, have been witness to a lot of broken glass, broken windows, the alarm system hanging out of the wall," explained Lewis.

Tina Lewis, right, and Kelly Ace from Higher Learning Montessori Preschool say parents of their students have been supportive of the church and its reaction to the vandalism. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

Ace added the vandalism is especially hurtful because of the services the church provides to the neighbourhood around them.

"The people that are here are incredibly giving to the community … to have something so senseless committed on a building and the people that work here is frustrating."

A violent act that was senseless … has been met with a solution. We forgive you.- Kelly Ace, the Higher Learning Montessori Preschool

But rather than turn away, parents have embraced the church's reaction and have sent along donations and cards of support, according to Lewis.

"What a message, violence doesn't beget violent," said Ace. "A violent act that was senseless … has been met with a solution. We forgive you."

Dykstra said each act of vandalism was been reported to police and while members are "anxious" to hear back, they plan to continue serving the people around them.

"It hasn't affected our trust and our sense of place in our community."

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