St. John’s Episcopal Church in Pleasantville had its sign on its lawn vandalized sometime Friday night or Saturday morning, adding to the growing list of intolerance at houses of worship around the county.
Congregation leaders were unsure of the motivation for the act, but St. John’s administrative warden Cindy Sullivan said this is the second incident of vandalism at the church since last spring – and both times it occurred in close proximity to the pride flag that has been affixed to one side of the sign.
In late May or early June, about a week after the congregation put up the rainbow flag, the bracket on the flagpole was damaged, she said. There is also an Episcopalian flag attached to the other side of the sign.
“It’s very dispiriting,” Sullivan said. “We are open to all people. Here we are on Martin Luther King weekend and we’re celebrating civil rights of people. People have rights, and people should be able to be who they are and go where they want to go. We want the community to know we are welcoming of all people.”
Pleasantville police wouldn’t comment on the incident because the matter is under investigation. Sullivan said that the church’s treasurer arrived at St. John’s on Bedford Road and Sunnyside Avenue shortly before 10 a.m. Saturday to prepare for the vestry’s annual meeting, scheduled to take place after Sunday morning’s service, when the vandalism was discovered.
Rev. Mary Gregorius said the vandalism occurred sometime during the overnight hours but didn’t have a precise time when the sign may have been damaged and hesitated to speculate on motive. She sent out an e-mail message to parishioners on Saturday with a short explanation of what had happened.
“Sometime in the night of January 17, 2020, someone decided to take their anger out on our parish sign,” Gregorius wrote to the church community. “It is the abominable act of small minds and insecurity. We are a people who preach the words of Jesus to “Fear not,” and we will live into those words as we prepare to replace our sign.”
In a statement released Saturday night, state Sen. Peter Harckham called the vandalism “a serious crime and affront to its residents,” and part of a pattern that must come to an end.
“The recent wave of destruction and defacement aimed at houses of worship, including those that post the rainbow Pride flag, and religious symbols in the Hudson Valley and across our nation cannot be tolerated nor waved away as mindless mischief,” Harckham said. “I know an investigation is taking place, but it’s time for all of us to come together and determine what needs to be done in order to drive hate from our communities.”
Sullivan said it may take several weeks before the sign is replaced because the congregation’s leadership may want to take some time to decide what the new sign would look like.
She said that it is likely the church will install video surveillance cameras on the grounds in hopes of deterring future vandals. Sullivan noted that last fall there was the discovery of two swastikas inside Pleasantville High School.
“We live in a town called Pleasanstville and we’re all supposed to be intelligent enough to be tolerant of each other and then we still have hate crimes,” Sullivan said. “It’s very sad.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.