Waco-area Christians unite in support of vandalized African-American church

Kenneth McNeil (right), pastor of Willow Grove Baptist Church, approaches the pulpit during a prayer service after the congregation’s Sunday morning worship service Aug. 13. Guests included Joe Bailey (left), pastor of Speegleville Baptist Church, seen visiting with Charlotte Jones, a minister and graduate of Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. (Photo courtesy of Tim Randolph)

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SPEEGLEVILLE—Whoever broke into Willow Grove Baptist Church in Speegleville left behind a Nazi symbol of hate, but through words and deeds, Christians in the surrounding area delivered a message of love.

Graffiti 400Whoever broke into Willow Grove Baptist Church in Speegleville used ketchup and mustard to scrawl graffiti on the fellowship hall floor. (Photo/Willow Grove Baptist Church/Facebook page.)“The churches have really rallied around us in a tremendous way,” said Kenneth McNeil, pastor of the predominantly African-American church 10 miles west of Waco. “There has been an outpouring of love and a demonstration of grace and unity.”

On Aug. 9, McNeil arrived at the church building to find it had been broken into and vandalized.

He discovered a swastika inside an encircled six-pointed star, along with the words “Trump” and “Satan,” scrawled on the fellowship hall floor with ketchup and mustard. He also found stained carpet and a ransacked office, but no missing valuables.

“And praise God, our sanctuary was not touched,” McNeil said.

The break-in and vandalism caused about $3,000 in damage, he noted. Willow Grove Baptist, a historic congregation founded by former slaves in 1871, has about 30 members.

Willow Grove Joe Bailey 400Joe Bailey, pastor of Speegleville Baptist Church, addressed a community prayer service at Willow Grove Baptist Church. Representatives from congregations throughout the Waco area gathered for the service after vandals broke into Willow Grove and scrawled graffiti on the church’s fellowship hall floor. (Photo courtesy of Tim Randolph)McNeil reported vandalism and posted several photos on Facebook the next morning, along with a message that “we will not allow hate to win or divide our community.”

 “We will continue to show the love and forgiveness of Christ,” he wrote. “Please pray for the healing and restoration of our church and community. Love will always prevail.”

Joe Bailey, pastor of Speegleville Baptist Church, and the local United Methodist Church pastor asked McNeil if they could pray with members of Willow Grove Baptist on Aug. 13. The churches scheduled a joint prayer service immediately following the conclusion of Willow Grove’s Sunday morning worship service.

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Willow Grove Scrubbing Floor 450Volunteers scrub the floor of the fellowship hall at Willow Grove Baptist Church to remove graffiti. (Photo by Ryan Busby / Courtesy of Tim Randolph)Tim Randolph, director of missions for Waco Regional Baptist Association, promoted the service on social media, and he noted representatives from about a dozen congregations attended.

Local media reported attendance at the prayer service as around 100, but McNeil said counting the people who stood outside the packed sanctuary, at least 200 participated.

He posted a message of thanksgiving on social media Aug. 14.

“We want to thank everyone for your prayers, support and words of comfort,” he wrote. “The outpouring of love has touched our congregation greatly. As we rebuild, we celebrate that God is bigger and love is greater than hate. What the enemy meant for evil has unified God’s people. Onward Christian soldier, our God is wonderful and mighty.”

Banner 350A banner hanging in the fellowship hall at Willow Grove Baptist Church in Speegleville displayed a message of healing, forgiveness and unity, in contrast to the hateful graffiti a vandal scrawled on the floor of the room. (Photo/Lindsey Camp)More than 100 volunteers from Waco-area churches and Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary participated in an Aug. 14 evening work session at Willow Grove Baptist.

“We had a such a great time, such a tremendous fellowship, and in the midst of all that, we got some work done, too,” McNeil said.

In addition to removing graffiti, cleaning carpet and restoring order to a disrupted office, volunteers also dusted the church’s sanctuary, washed windows and scrubbed the building’s exterior.

“Anything that needed doing, they did it,” McNeil said.

Some repairs from the break-in will require professional attention, but local churches donated enough cover the costs, Randolph noted.

Now, Willow Grove is investigating the possibility of installing a surveillance system.

“For a church with 30 members, funding is a concern when you start considering that kind of ongoing monthly expense, but we’re making some calls to check into it,” McNeil said.

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