BATTLE GROUND — The vinyl banners in front of Battle Ground Community United Methodist Church are the greatest evangelism tool the Rev. Susan Boegli has ever seen at work.
Originally put up two years ago, the 4-by-8-foot sign, with a banner on each side, along Northeast 199th Street reads “A welcoming faith community” and has a rainbow, a symbol of support and inclusion for the LGBTQ community.
“We wanted to let the community know that we believe that we are all God’s beloved, and we are all of sacred worth — and all means all. We felt that was an important message to get out to the community,” Boegli said.
Many people come into the church, at least in part, because of the banners, she said.
However, the banners have been damaged and stolen recently. It started about three months ago when someone slashed them, causing minor damage. The church repaired the banners, which were then stolen a few weeks ago.
The church took time to figure out how to respond but eventually reprinted them at Ink Ability in Battle Ground, which costs about $200 for a set of two banners. This time, the church also bought a backup set. An anonymous donor offered to pay for any backup banners.
“The words are the same, but it’s a different design and the rainbow is bigger, quite a bit bigger,” Boegli said. “The irony is that I feel like this is an attempt to silence us, but they’ve actually given us a bullhorn.”
After the new banners were put up Thursday, they were slashed beyond repair sometime Sunday night. Less than 24 hours later on Monday afternoon, Boegli and congregant Kristin Wade put up yet another set and hope they will remain intact. Wade chalked up those first two incidents to random vandalism. But this time around, she said, it felt targeted.
“I love that the church is like, ‘You’re not going to silence us. We’re going to put another one up.’ And by the way, there’s a backup on order again, you know, so that’s pretty cool,” said Wade, who has a 16-year-old son in the LGBTQ community.
She came to the church about a year ago after looking for a faith community that would affirm and celebrate her family. The church her family was leaving suggested they check out Battle Ground Community United Methodist Church.
“The rainbow is incredibly powerful for somebody who has felt like they are being judged or being told that they are not worthy. To even just pull into the parking lot and see that rainbow there is huge,” Wade said. “It’s also really tiring for people in the LGBTQ community to speak up for themselves all the time. And so it’s really nice to have people come as allies alongside of them, and to help fight that fight. … It’s the power of saying ‘we’re in this with you.’ ”
A few years ago, Battle Ground Community United Methodist Church joined the Reconciling Ministries Network. Vancouver Heights United Methodist Church is the only other Clark County church that’s part of this church group trying to make the denomination more accepting of LGBTQ people.
The banners are not the only sign in front of the church, which is sits south of downtown. Next to the entrance is a sign advertising the Education Opportunities for Children and Families program. That sign has not been damaged.
The police report for the most recent incident was not available Monday. According to the June 24 report — from when the banners were stolen — the case was suspended due to lack of suspect information.
Boegli said the congregation has discussed getting a surveillance camera or making the sign taller to deter future vandalism. She also reached out to Battle Ground Mayor Mike Dalesandro, who said the vandalism is not acceptable or a reflection of the community.
“Battle Ground is not defined by these disgusting, unlawful acts,” he said.
The small city has seen sporadic incidents of vandalism, Dalesandro said, but this is the first he’s heard of a church being targeted.
In June, the city made a unity proclamation. It says Battle Ground City Council “will support policy that is welcoming to people of all races and ethnicities, all countries of origin, all shapes and sizes, all religions and creeds, all gender identities, all sexual orientations, all abilities and disabilities, and all spoken and signed languages. Furthermore, the city of Battle Ground encourages its citizens to embrace our diversity, respect individual beliefs and values, and understand that everyone’s uniqueness is what makes Battle Ground that special place we call home.”
Dalesandro said he worked with Battle Ground High School leadership students on the proclamation.