In the fading sunlight of Friday evening, June 21, Renton supporters, church attendees and members of the local LGBTQ+ community gathered to light candles, sing and pray.
“Our sacred space has been violated, we feel vulnerable,” one congregation member said.
“May compassion come from our fear, so we can pursue justice, not revenge,” another member said. “May we continue to welcome and stand with all who are oppressed.”
In response to an act of vandalism that prompted an investigation from the FBI, the United Christian Church in Renton held a prayer vigil Friday, June 21 at the church. Messages of hope, persistence and acceptance were shared by speakers and the many attendees.
The FBI in Seattle confirmed on its Twitter account an investigation was underway about the explosive damage from Wednesday, June 19, previously reported on in the Renton Reporter. But it was unable to comment further.
After Friday, the church in a Facebook post stated that changes have been made to the display by congregation members. Now only the door created before the vigil, stating “Love wins! Thank you neighbors” stands, Pastor Cynthia Meyer said.
The group that watched the speeches at the vigil were then asked to shuffle forward and lay hands on one another with the congregation in the center. The two members who have worked repeatedly to keep the doors up stood in the center, and one looked around at the support from over 100 attendees with tears in his eyes.
Then the group began to light the candles and sing “This Little Light of Mine.”
— Haley Ausbun (@HaleyAusbun) June 22, 2019
Leigh Weber is a pastor at Vashon Presbyterian Church, and lives in Fairwood. Meyer was out of town for the event and asked Weber to help step in and lead the vigil.
Weber said this church has been tenacious with their efforts to keep up the doors. She described it as the “little church that could.”
Jesse Colman’s father was minister at United Christian for 17 years, before Meyer took over.
This was the first radical display of love he’d seen from the church, though the idea had been presented to him as he grew up there.
“I had my first kiss here, I learned what love is here and I learned that all love is sacred,” he said.
Colman said he’s not very involved in the church anymore, but after seeing what happened to the doors, he decided it was time to come together.
Several other leaders from religious organizations helped with the vigil, including from the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, Open Door Ministries and the Church Council of Greater Seattle.
King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove also spoke at the event.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “But there have been a lot of events recently that show how far we’ve yet to come.”
Upthegrove said he was proud of the King County Library System, which has been working to educate on marginalized communities, as lack of education breeds fear and discrimination.
Swannee Bruner and her family attended the vigil and were with the church for 14 years. Bruner said one of the things that attracted them to the church initially was that it was an open and affirming congregation. It was also one of the churches in Renton where she said felt comfortable as a person of color.
The church’s welcoming environment is why Bruner was at the vigil, adding she loved the display. When she started hearing about the damage it was a little scary, and almost wondered if the vigil would be safe.
“Who would do that?” she said. “And it seemed like it kept escalating.”
But it didn’t stop the church so it didn’t stop her, Bruner said. She said while some churches say they’re open and affirming, this one stands behind it.
Mayor Denis Law stated in his weekly newsletter on June 20, how he found the damage troubling and that it would not deter their goal to create an inclusive and welcoming community. He also stated extra patrols were out to watch the doors.
The Anti-Defamation League chapter of the Pacific Northwest also released a statement about the string of attacks, stating: “This is an attack on our community’s values of acceptance and respect – especially during a month that is meant to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.”
The league stated it would support the investigation, and encouraged folks to attend the vigil.
Several former and current churchgoers said it was a great turnout. Bruner said it felt warm and safe at the vigil, and she saw folks from her current church and other close friends.