Enough is enough. So sayeth the pastor and the parishioners of the Eagle River Missionary Baptist Church.
They’d like to employ the principle of “forgive and forget,” but it is somewhat challenging to do so when vandalism at the church property continues and there hasn’t been much in the way of confession by the perpetrators.
“We just want it to stop,” Lisa Munson said. She is one of the church leaders. “We don’t understand why we are being targeted. Is it because we are church comprised predominantly of minorities? I sure hope not, but that is what it seems since we haven’t heard of any other churches in Eagle River that are experiencing what we experience and even have video of happening here on our property.”
The ERMB church is tucked away on Lesmer Circle between Mausel Street and the fence boundary with JBER on the Knik side of the Glenn Highway in Eagle River. It is a large enough lot with paved parking and a bank of trees on three sides with the high retaining wall of another house of worship on the fourth side.
Day after day Rev. Dr. Willian Greene sees video of vehicles pulling in to the church property, slowly driving around as if the driver and occupants are “casing” the place and then leave.
Early in June, one vehicle an SUV pulled into the church parking, stopped briefly and left only to return a few minutes later and park. A young Caucasian male jumped out of the driver’s side back seat and ran behind the church.
Then the young male ran to the front of the church where parking cones are kept when not in use in the parking lot before and after services to help direct traffic. Video of the young male showed him smiling and laughing as he grabbed cones – one by one – and tossed them on to the church roof.
Not exactly a harmless prank, Greene said.
His congregation is an older one; the church’s roof is quite high. Fortunately, one of the church’s younger associate pastors was willing to tackle the task of retrieving the cones with the use of a powered lift for the extremely high sections of the building with its classic steeple and a ladder for the lower section where the structure includes a covered drive-up area where passengers can unload out of the weather.
“It just isn’t funny,” Greene said as he showed video footage. “I don’t recognize that young man. I don’t know what our church could have done to him to prompt this sort of behavior.”
The cone-tossing is far from the first such thing to happen at the church. About a year ago, the church was burglarized. Stained glass windows were broken. In that case, a juvenile was caught. His parents brought him to a church service in which he apologized. Financial arrangements were made.
Forgiveness was granted.
But Greene – a veteran of the civil rights movement and longtime mover and shaker in the Anchorage NAACP community – knew the time had come to install video cameras inside and outside of the church.
In May, tools worth thousands of dollars were stolen from the truck of the church custodian as it was parked at the church.
In February and March, car thieves from Anchorage must have thought the church’s location was remote enough, Greene said, because they were parking stolen cars full of hot merchandise behind the church.
The church’s secretary has arrived during non-worship hours only to watch vehicles that were parked back out of parking spaces on the far end of the church lot and leave without acknowledging her presence.
Greene has it all on tape.
And while he really doesn’t wish to raise the race card – the ERMBC congregation is primarily African-American, Latino and Native Alaskan – he wonders if that is a factor in why the church is facing skirmishes with criminals and vandals.
He is asking pastors of other Eagle River churches to speak out to their respective congregations to condemn the acts occurring at his church and to ask their members to stand with the ERMBC as it combats vandalism.
“We have long been a positive part of this community,” Greene said, noting that the first food pantry in Eagle River was established at ERMBC in the 1970s and more than 50,000 people received food assistance during its nearly decade-long operation. “We want to remain a positive part of this community, but this sort of harassment must stop.”
Reach Amy Armstrong via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.