Members of Guelph Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, arrived for prayer meeting on Wednesday, August 9, to discover graffiti and a racist message spray-painted on their church building.
The hate message was not immediately visible from below, but when Pastor Selburn Fray investigated the graffiti sprayed on a wall and satellite dish, he discovered it on a flat roof.
“I was shocked to see it,” said Fray. “It was the last thing I expected to see happen to our church, especially in Guelph.”
Guelph is a city of about 140,000 inhabitants 62 miles (100 kilometers) south-west of downtown Toronto. The local Adventist church has a high percentage of black members, some of whom have lived in Guelph nearly all their lives.
When the entire congregation gathered for worship on Sabbath morning, August 12, Fray shared what he had seen on the roof.
“While saddened by the behaviour of what they saw as a misguided person,” Fray told Halsey Peat, Ontario Conference Communication director, “members were forgiving and were not too disturbed by it. However, after Sabbath, when they saw the news of the hate and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, I began receiving calls expressing greater concern.”
Church members were quick to note that the tranquillity of the city of Guelph was not isolated from the turmoil of the wider world.
“I’m shocked,” said church organist Carol Weinstein, who has been attending the church for over 31 years, in an interview with CTV News. “At the same time, in light of what has been going on in the world, I think it was inevitable that it would come to Canada, and it’s very saddening.”
Ontario Conference president Mansfield Edwards was alarmed when he heard the news but was not surprised.
“I am greatly saddened that our members of Guelph have been targeted,” he said. “They can be assured of our support and our prayers for them.”
Edwards said, however, that given the increase of hate in our world and even here in Canada, it is not surprising God’s people become the targets. “I encourage all our members to be faithful to God and to confront hate with love,” he said.
CTV News included a report on the incident in the evening news on August 14, and asked for the public’s help to find the person or persons responsible.
Amazing Community Response
Since the news was broadcast two roofing companies have offered to clean up the damage and restore the roof. A community organization showed support for the church by attending Sabbath morning worship on August 19.
Member of Parliament for Guelph Lloyd Longfield, wrote to the congregation saying, “Racism and religious discrimination have no place in Canadian society. Together, we must stand strongly against this type of prejudice so that Canada remains a place where people from all faiths and religions are welcomed and come together to form the wonderful mosaic that we are so proud of in Canada.”
Longfield, who is well acquainted with the Adventist community, said he values the contribution of Guelph Seventh-day Adventist Church to the local community.
“I know that from my past visits with Fray and your congregation that your community is one of inclusion and great faith,” he wrote. “I hope that this vandalism will not tarnish your views of the wider community of Guelph as it too strives to uphold the values of inclusion, togetherness, and community spirit that are exemplified by your congregation.”
Fray says that the church is overwhelmed by the community’s support. He indicated that the city of Guelph has even offered to help the church by paying for the installation of security cameras.
“What started as an act of hate has allowed us to establish even stronger relations with the community,” he said.
Guelph police is investigating the incident.