Alta Mosque VandalismA few years ago, someone began breaking windows in the church I attend. I became one of the volunteers who stood watch at night to prevent further damage, and to try to catch the perpetrator. Alone at night, checking doors and windows, it was easy to conjure up “enemies.” Was it some conspiracy? Some hate group? Did everyone dislike us? Was society against us?

I felt suspicious of everyone, felt like our church – and myself – were under attack. Then one day, a man walked in and confessed. He hated churches, decided on a whim to break some windows and happened to be walking by our building. He ran away before the police arrived, but the breakage stopped and we all breathed a sigh of relief. We weren’t under attack, it wasn’t “them” against “us,” it was just one crazy guy.

During this time our church did something very smart. Except for posting people at night, we ignored the distraction, repaired the windows and got on with the mission of the church. Except for those who were posted as security, few parishioners even knew about it. Broken windows was merely a distraction, not part of the mission, and church officials gave it the attention it deserved – not much.

Many houses of worship have been vandalized – swastikas sprayed on synagogues, windows broken, headstones overturned, etc. I would suggest doing what is necessary to get on with the show – security, an insurance claim, fast repairs and no more attention devoted to it, but a renewed emphasis on the mission, the objective, the purpose.

If it appears in the news, it creates an even bigger distraction, creates a suspicious “them and us” mindset, makes us less willing to show kindness and welcome to new people, and in short can detract from the mission of hope and charity and help. One or two crazy people shouldn’t be allowed to distract your congregation from receiving and delivering help to a society and a planet sorely in need of those things.

Media will try to portray you as victims of a hate crime. The newspapers spread it all around, emphasize how horrible it all is. Don’t be a victim, just be effective. Clean off the graffiti, do the repairs and get on with it. Put your attention on the purpose, the mission the goal, and ignore the distractions. Nazi graffiti, obscene messages, etc. are just symbols on bricks, attempts to shock, dismay and distract. Wash them off, don’t make a big deal of it, concentrate on your mission.

If you have a credible threat, deal with it. An armed guard patrolled outside a recent Bar Mitzvah I attended — just enough to ward off anyone who might want to cause trouble, just enough to make those inside feel secure. And a night patrol is a good idea if someone is breaking windows. Break-ins? Get a burglar alarm or a big dog. And “don’t let the noise of the world keep you from hearing the voice of the Lord.”