WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- When Pastor Randy Rice pulled into the LifeChurch parking lot Tuesday morning, he was greeted by anti-religious hate messages spray-painted onto two different church buildings -- a sight that hit him as a "sad and disturbing" surprise, he said.
"I would never have expected this,” he said. “This was a total shock to us. It hurts."
The words that had been scrawled on these buildings were "pretty hateful, pretty perverse," Rice said, and he did not want to repeat them. He estimated that it might have cost up to $2000 for an outside service to remove the paint.
However, church members like Sue VanOpdorp volunteered to clean it up for free with supplies from their own homes. VanOpdorp, who works as an administrative assistant at the church, said she was also stunned by the vandalism but hoped the culprit would come forward to apologize.
"We've been in the community for 12 years ... we are kind of a beacon to the community, and it was just hurtful," she said. "We would love to receive an apology from (the vandals) if they would come in and do that."
The vandalism at LifeChurch is the second instance of religiously targeted graffiti in the Cincinnati area in 2017, although police have not indicated that this incident is related to the hate symbol left on a Hebrew Union College sign Jan. 3.
Pastor Rice said that, like VanOpdorp, he has no interest in pressing charges against the person or persons who marked up those church buildings. Instead, he said, he wants his parishioners to forgive and pray for the culprit.
"I have no idea where this came from, where the graffiti came from, but I sense it could be possibly from a hurt individual that’s just got a lot of pain and randomly picked us," he said.
He added that, if it had not been a random act of defacement, he hoped publicizing the incident would help other religious organizations in the area become aware of the possibility that the same person or people could also hit to their place of worship.
"Our hope is that people would be aware, that synagogues, mosques and leaders and congregations would be aware," Rice said. "I understand the political environment, I understand a lot of things that are going on, unfortunately there is a lot hurt feelings and a lot of division, but we are here to bring healing."