North Raleigh church doesn’t let vandalism get in the way of Christmas

This is what Saint Andrews Church looked like Friday evening before the congregation cleaned it up just in time for the Christmas service.
This is what Saint Andrews Church looked like Friday evening before the congregation cleaned it up just in time for the Christmas service. Abbie Harris

Anyone who stepped into Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church on Sunday would not have been able to tell that the church had been vandalized two days earlier.

Christmas trees with sentimental ornaments had been knocked over. Shattered glass covered the sanctuary floor. The Lord’s Table had been flipped over and thrown from the altar. Some type of liquid had been poured down the organ and wooden piano.

“This is the story of the Grinch, and how the Grinch tried to steal Christmas,” Tom Harris, the senior pastor, said Sunday. “It’s been a roller coaster. We went from sort of standing there with our mouths open, wondering what’s going to happen to ‘Wow, you know with God’s help we can do this.’”

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It’s not clear when the vandalism took place; Harris said he received a call about it Friday evening. Nothing had been taken from the church, but the damage was extensive. At first, Harris thought it would be Saturday before everything was cleaned up.

“The momentum grew, and we just did it Friday night,” he said. “People kept showing up, working and bringing food. We got it done.”

On Sunday, there were more flowers in the church than there were prior to the vandalism, Harris said.

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, who has been a member of the church off Falls of Neuse Road since the late 1990s, was shocked when she heard the news.

“I couldn’t believe that somebody or a group of people would break into a church and just vandalize everything,” McFarlane said after services Sunday. “It was just sort of mind blowing actually.”

McFarlane said she saw pictures of the damages posted on Facebook on Friday night, as well as photos of people helping with the clean-up. She said the effort to fix everything was emotionally healing for the congregation.

“I think the most amazing thing has been how much this church community has pulled together,” she said.

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Volunteers from the congregation had cleaned up the entire church by the end of Friday. Abbie Harris

McFarlane said she was shocked when she heard that people from around the world were sending prayers and support to the church through social media. People in the Triangle who aren’t involved with the church also extended a helping hand.

“I got a Facebook message from a wonderful Jewish woman,” Harris said. “She said ‘You know, I’m not very busy this time of year. My holidays are over. I’d love to come to help.’”

As of Sunday, police did not know who had vandalized the church, but Harris said he and other members aren’t too concerned about that.

“I’m less worried about holding them responsible and more worried about reconciling and helping to heal what that hurt is to want to do that to such a place,” he said. “We’d love to love them.”

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Rashaan Ayesh is The News & Observer’s Fact Checking Fellow. She looks into claims made by politicians and pundits all over North Carolina. She grew up in Raleigh and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Contact her at rayesh@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4802.