One week later, vandalized church unbowed

Posted: May 14, 2013

The Rev. Myrtle Daniels stepped up to the altar and switched on a reading light. Lucile Stewart-Mitchell took her seat at the piano, pressing open a hymn book. Karyn Fisher turned down music playing on an iPad.

"We've had a busy week," Daniels announced, facing a dozen congregants gathered Sunday morning at Mount Zion A.M.E. in Woolwich Township.

A week earlier, someone had rearranged the letters on the sign outside the tiny church, defacing it with a racist - and misspelled - message: No Nigers Welcome.

Whom to blame is still a mystery. Police have said they were investigating, and church members say they haven't heard anything more.

On Sunday, they carried on as usual, including with plans to commemorate the church's 214th anniversary next month.

"We want to celebrate with all of the fervor we can muster," Daniels said. "We ain't quite ready to be moved just yet."

Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the white frame church sits across from Kingsway Regional High School, bordered by houses with sprawling lawns.

Before the houses, "this church was here," said Gregory Carter of Logan Township. "Have some respect for, first, God and this church."

Carter started attending Mount Zion in 1984, when he said the church endured a similar act of vandalism.

After last week, "I was hurt more than anything," he said. "But it hasn't taken my spirit, that's for sure." He sat in the front row Sunday, shaking a tambourine during songs and leading the group in prayer.

For Diana Pate of Mullica Hill, the overt racism of the vandalism was "a new experience for me."

"It's stupid. It's ridiculous," said Pate, who has been going to the church for 20 years. "We just don't live like that."

Since last weekend, Mount Zion has received letters of support and $560 in donations from the community, said Fisher, a church member and volunteer.

Kingsway Middle School is also planning field trips for students to learn the church's history, Fisher said.

"So, something good can come out of everything that happened," she said.

That hope was echoed by several people who stood up during the service, saying they had come from other churches to express support for the congregation.

"I believe good will overcome evil," said Bill Sanchez, who attended with his wife, Anne. "We hope you continue another 214 years."

During her sermon, delivered in honor of Mother's Day, Daniels didn't focus on the crime against the church - though she said she easily could have.

"Those who did the dastardly deed had mothers," she said. "We could ask the question, 'What kind of mothers did they have?' "

As worshipers filed out of the pews, Daniels said she was confident that the church would learn more about the vandalism, either through the police or "unofficial channels."

But no matter its source, the slur won't shake the congregation, she said.

"They can put up all the signs, and misspell all the words," she said. "We'll still be here, with a smile, in our little edifice."


Contact Maddie Hanna at 856-779-3232 or mhanna@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @maddiehanna.

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