When Esther Harjo arrived last Thursday at the Lawrence Indian United Methodist Church to begin preparations for the congregation's monthly taco dinner, she thought she saw a body on the ground.
On closer inspection, Harjo saw it was the wooden cross that had been on top of the roof of the church at 950 E. 21st St.
“Someone had sawed it off,” she said.
Officer Drew Fennelly, of the Lawrence Police Department, said Monday that the vandalism occurred sometime between 10 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday. The incident remains under investigation, he said. Anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 785-843-TIPS or the police department at 785-832-7509.
The cross with its metal flame punctured the roof and caused damage to a gutter as it fell, Harjo said. The vandal used a bench that the church had put outside to get on the roof, she said.
As she counted the offerings after church services Sunday with fellow congregant Frances Girty, the two women concluded that the vandal’s apparent use of an electric saw indicated some planning behind the act. The motive behind the destruction was unclear.
The church serves mostly Native Americans and is part of the Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, but Girty said she didn’t think the vandalism was done out of hostility toward Native Americans.
“I think it was religion,” she said. “We’ve been here 40 years and have only been vandalized once before.”
If someone was trying to send a threatening message to the congregation, it was a waste of time, Harjo said.
“I guess somebody wants our building not recognized as a church anymore, but that’s not going to happen,” she said.
The church has received support from other Lawrence congregations. It also has been in talks with a Lawrence roofer to replace the cross for free.
In a statement released Saturday, David Wilson, superintendent of Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, stated the Lawrence church was thankful for the support it received from the community.
“Whether a random act of destruction, or something more sinister directed specifically toward the Native American community, we will keep our perpetrators in prayer,” Wilson said. “We are thankful for the many who have offered to repair the damage and who have shown love and support to our native brothers and sisters in this challenging time.”
The news release states that the church does not yet have an estimate of the damages.
Meanwhile, normal activities continue at the church. The incident didn’t even stop the taco sale on the day the vandalism was discovered, Girty said. The dinners always do well, but Thursday’s sale benefited when a Native American Lawrence police officer brought many of his friends to the church for lunch, she said.