Congregation will return to church for the first time after Christmas Eve vandalism

Cindy Mullet
Sunday, February 2, 2020
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Brendan Heidner photo

Ray Dutton with ServiceMaster out of Billings wipes down one of the pews in the Glendive United Methodist Church sanctuary after vacuuming all the surfaces.

Day of Celebration

Sunday will be a day of celebration for members of the Glendive United Methodist Church as they meet in their own building for the first time since the church was vandalized on Christmas Eve.

They recognize that as Christians they can worship anywhere, Rev. Carol Rhan, church pastor, noted, but coming back into their familiar worship space where they feel comfortable and where they can not only worship but enjoy coffee and fellowship after the worship service will be a special time.

The vandalism that has kept them out of their worship space was discovered when Rhan returned to the church for the second service on Christmas Eve and noticed that the offering plates which had been filled with cash during the first service were standing empty.

Rhan said her first thought was “Someone needed it.” Her second thought, knowing that other churches were also holding Christmas Eve services, was, “I hope they’re not hitting all the churches.”

After the service, they discovered theft was not all that had happened. The basement had been vandalized with fire extinguishers emptied through the basement and up into the furnace vents. As they began to realize the extent of the vandalism they thought how juvenile, how unnecessary, how mean, she said.

They also realized it could have been much worse. The emptied brass offering plates could have been thrown through the church’s stained glass windows. Several more fire extinguishers could have been emptied, she said.

The money taken from the offering plates had been designated for the Glendive Community Cancer Fund and the Intermountain Children’s Home, two charities previously chosen by the church board as recipients of the Christmas Eve offering, Rhan said, adding that an offering was taken at the Glendive Community Christmas dinner to help replace that loss and other contributions continue to be received.

Several local churches let Rhan know they were praying for her and the church during this time. Prayers and some offers of help were received through Facebook messages following the announcement of the vandalism. The congregation was able to meet in the Silha Funeral Home chapel for two Sundays and then moved to the First Congregational Church, holding a service at 11 a.m. following the host church’s 10 a.m. service, she said.

When people ask Rhan about the vandalism, their first question is usually, “Did they catch the person?” She understands that concern but, for her, the major consideration is how to help that person overcome the problems that caused them to act the way they did.

“I believe in accountability,” she said, “but I also ask, how can I take care of their pastoral needs? That needs to be our focus.”

Some people have asked Rhan if she thinks the vandalism is a response to the church’s Wednesday acts of social holiness where members stand on the sidewalk in front of the church with signs speaking to social justice issues but she doesn’t believe there is a connection.

“I think that would have been done back in August,” she explained.

The last month has been a hard one for church members as they face the reality that their place of worship, where they take comfort, has been violated. They have been deprived of the place where they feel most comfortable, but they have also been challenged to think outside of their immediate group, she said.

Since they have not been able to use the building at all during this time, the choir has been meeting at Lincoln School to practice and the churchsponsored Girls Scout troop has met at the church parsonage. People have adjusted to the challenges, she said.

They’ve also been forced to have discussions on the potential for future problems and their response. While they will look at adding some additional security measures, there will never be armed security guards at the church and the doors will not be locked during Sunday services or during the week when Rhan is in the office, she said.

Those measures are not the answer. The church should always be a place where vulnerable people are welcome. While she doesn’t want to put anyone in a dangerous situation, she also never wants to put any additional block in front of someone looking for help.

“We’ll take reasonable steps to make the building safer but we don’t have to go crazy with it,” she said, adding, “We have more to be grateful for than to be anxious about.”

The church is a vital part of the community, and it’s good to feel the excitement of new people joining the strong core of long-time members. Church attendance is up. New members have joined the church. Rhan is thrilled with the commitment of the Wednesday group. The Girl Scout troop sponsored by the church brings a new vitality and energy. Lots of good things are happening, she said.

Sunday’s homecoming service will include a celebration of the Sacrament of Communion. Girl Scout Troop 2323 will claim their prize for winning a food bank collection challenge by teaching the congregation how to sing and move to “I’m a Little Teapot.” A “full-blown” potluck will follow the service. All are welcome to join the celebration, she said.

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