“We would rather have a good, respectful conversation with someone about the topic and be able to put forward a prophetic voice of what we believe. As I’ll often say when I’m preaching, we don’t want to be pushed by our negative reactions. We want to be drawn by vision and see if we can use the energy of our frustration in a positive way.”— Jennifer Amy-Dressler, pastor of Open Table Church of Christ in Ottawa
Signs in front of the Open Table United Church of Christ in Ottawa have been the target of vandalism over the better part of the last year.
Pastor Jennifer Amy-Dressler said the church’s Columbus Street-facing front lawn has had signs along the road in support of anti-racist stances, including signs in support of Black Lives Matter.
“Our signs have been removed or damaged, so we’ve made a commitment and posted on the back of the signs that when a Black Lives Matter sign was damaged or removed, we would make a donation to Black Lives Matter with the hope that it might deter some of the vandalism,” Amy-Dressler said.
The signs remained up through the year and remained largely untouched during the winter months, but Amy-Dressler said with the Derek Chauvin trial in May, the church began experiencing the vandalism again.
Another sign in front of the church read “Love thy neighbor, no matter what,” and a third sign rotated.
“The Black Lives Matter sign was the one that drew the most ire,” Amy-Dressler said. “One day, I was out adjusting the signs and someone started yelling things from across the street that we’re a terrible church and shouldn’t have those signs up.”
When the spring began, somebody started running the signs over with their bicycle. This led a member of the congregation to create more permanent stakes using two-by-fours for wooden frames, along with sinking the signs about two feet into the soil.
The “Black Lives Matter” sign was vandalized and taken between 12:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. on Memorial Day.
“I finish up my run at that corner and check the signs and the Black Lives Matter sign was missing,” Amy-Dressler said. “Not just the sign, but the entire frame. We discovered that on one side, the post had been pulled out of the ground and the other broken off at ground level.”
That was the first time the church reported crimes to the police.
“This one was especially distressing to us because Memorial Day ought to be about honoring those who sacrificed their lives for the Constitution, for the right to free speech and the right to religion,” Amy-Dressler said. “I think we could throw in there, perhaps, that one’s private property should not be vandalized.”
Amy-Dressler said the church should be able to speak and show its faith, and if others would like to have a discussion, the church members welcome that.
“It’s on our property,” Amy-Dressler said. “It’s not out on public property. It’s on our property, and the last sign that disappeared had been right on the corner said ‘hate has no home here.’ Somebody must’ve really wanted that for their yard.”
Amy-Dressler said church members still are looking into how they want to respond because they aren’t looking to punish somebody.
“We would rather have a good, respectful conversation with someone about the topic and be able to put forward a prophetic voice of what we believe,” Amy-Dressler said. “As I’ll often say when I’m preaching, we don’t want to be pushed by our negative reactions. We want to be drawn by vision and see if we can use the energy of our frustration in a positive way.”
Amy-Dressler said the United Church of Christ is committed to being as inclusive as possible, and anti-racism is just another facet of what the church brings forward. Their front lawn currently has pro-LGBTQ+ signs for Pride Month.
“It’s not about guilting people into anything,” Amy-Dressler said. “It’s about learning to see through a different lens and learning to understand those bigger systemic issues that we get caught in and don’t even realize.”