Jeremy Field had a simple message for the vandals behind the crude, anti-religious slogans that were plastered overnight across the Park Forest Baptist Church.
“God loves you, and we forgive you,” said Field, who toiled Thursday scrubbing spray paint from the sides of the church.
The initial reaction may have been a surprise considering the vulgar, hateful words painted there and the extensive damage caused to the building and a bus owned by the church. But coming from Field, a youth minister, the sentiment seemed genuine.
“We’re going to clean it up,” he said, calmly. “Everyone is going to pitch in, and we’re going to clean it. It’s just a building, it’s just paint.”
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Patton Township police, on the other hand, might not be as forgiving.
Police are investigating the incident, which they said happened overnight Wednesday to Thursday. The building, at 3030 Carnegie Drive, was covered in graffiti on all sides, and sustained what police called extensive damage.
Pastor Jim Nolton said he can’t think of anyone who would hold a grudge against the church. But whatever the motivation, the damage to church property has only strengthened the resolve of its members.
“I’m not sure what the perpetrator intended, but we believe the Bible said God can turn evil to good,” Nolton said. “Certainly he did in this case. Folks enjoyed working out there together. It stirs up even more loyalty and faith.”
Volunteers were there throughout Thursday, some on their lunch breaks, applying some elbow grease to help remove the paint. Nolton said they had been mostly successful. He reported the majority of the graffiti had been removed from both the building and the bus by about 4 p.m.
Heidi Walker, of Bellefonte, was one of the volunteers working outside in the warm afternoon sun. She didn’t think twice about coming to help after getting a text message from church officials early Thursday morning.
“The question is, why wouldn’t I come?” Walker said. “There have been plenty of times this church puts out a call for help, and they come. This is a church that lives the way Christ calls to to live. We serve each other the way Christ calls us to serve.”
Nolton said the crew of volunteers included students from nearby Grace Prep Christian High School.
“A pretty big crew showed up,” he said. “We have a positive attitude about it.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the Patton Township Police Department at 800-479-0050.