Metro

An Arlington church refuses to let vandals have the last word

The Rev. Malia Crawford (left) and Rev. Sue Fisher Seegar hung a new "Black Lives Matter" sign Thursday at the Church of Our Saviour in Arlington.

Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

The Rev. Malia Crawford (left) and Rev. Sue Fisher Seegar hung a new "Black Lives Matter" sign Thursday at the Church of Our Saviour in Arlington.

ARLINGTON — When the “Black Lives Matter” sign that had hung in front of The Church of Our Saviour since November was found defaced three weeks ago, clergy and members of the congregation didn’t simply take it down and erase the incident from their collective memory.

They used it to send a powerful message.

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“ ‘We won’t let evil have the final word’ is more important than saying ‘evil never happened,’ ” the Rev. Malia Crawford explained.

So members of the Episcopal congregation added artwork to the defaced sign as a way to practice healing, love, and solidarity with those in society who suffer injustice.

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“We used the story of the Good Samaritan to explore how to tend to the wounds of our neighbors in the face of violence, and to send the message that we are standing together,” Crawford said.

On Thursday night, in the midst of Holy Week and its promise of resurrection, the old sign was quietly replaced. Crawford and the Rev. Sue Fisher Seeger went out into the cold mist and hung a new banner outside the church just before the evening’s Maundy Thursday services, which commemorate when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.

Attached to the new sign is a note addressing how vandals had defaced the old banner by cutting a slash through the word “matter” and scrawled “Police Lives Matter Too.”

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“For 400 years black people have been treated as though their lives do not matter,” the note reads. “In feeling the need to cut a slash through our banner, the vandal implied that there is a limit on how many people can matter. He or she sets up a false dichotomy that is not helpful to anyone.”

Fisher Seeger said that replacing the sign was an act of healing for the church and for the greater community.

“Just this week there was more terror, more destruction, more death,” she said. “It’s everywhere. Even the political discourse — some of it — is negative and hateful. There’s a gloom and a darkness about a lot of things, so whatever light and hope we can bring is what we need to do.”

The Church of Our Saviour first erected the banner last November after a similar “Black Lives Matter” sign that hung outside the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church in Arlington was vandalized three times between mid-October and Thanksgiving weekend.

The Church of Our Saviour, along with several other Arlington churches, decided to stand in solidarity with the Unitarian Universalist congregation and the entire community after that incident, Crawford said.

“When we say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we are thinking about real people we love: our children, or our family members, or our fellow parishioner, or our neighbor, or our classmate or our friends. When we strive for a society in which black lives really do matter, we are working for a society that benefits us all,” Crawford said in a statement.

The church banners are not the only places where Arlington has seen troubling vandalism.

In a March 17 letter to parents, Ottoson Middle School Principal Timothy Ruggere said that racist and anti-Semitic graffiti had been found in two bathrooms at the school.

School Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said in a statement that Ruggere spoke to all students during lunch, explaining “community standards of acceptable behavior, and reinforcing how seriously the school community views this type of incident.”

In addition, Bodie said school administrators are meeting with the town’s Human Rights Commission and the Anti-Defamation League.

“This incident is an unfortunate reminder that we have ongoing work as a school community to engage students in understanding and living up to our core values, including openness to all races, religions and cultures,” she wrote.

The Arlington incidents come after several examples of anti-Semitic graffiti have been found in two Newton schools since fall, and racist questions were submitted via an anonymous online site as the Black Leadership Advisory Club prepared for Black Culture Day at Newton North High School in February.

Crawford said it was important for members of her Arlington congregation to take a stand after their banner was vandalized.

“We are concerned that this is part of a larger epidemic of hatred in our society,” she said. “The powers of evil in this world rejoice when our fear and anxiety turn into hatred. When we blame our neighbor, we stop asking the real questions: Why in a land of plenty, are so many people suffering? Let us strive to work together for a society that ensures peace and justice for all people.”

Globe correspondent Bailey Putnam contributed to this report. Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.
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