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DC church, vandalized during riots, offers message of 'togetherness' with racial justice-themed murals

St. John's Church
In September 2020, a group of volunteers painted murals on the protective plywood panels placed at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Racial justice was a major theme of the work. |

A historic Washington, D.C., church that was the subject of arson and graffiti during the summer riots recently had its protective plywood panels painted with racial justice imagery.

St. John’s Episcopal Church of Lafayette Square, a congregation located not far from the White House, had the murals painted onto the panels, which had been installed to protect their windows from vandalism, at an event on Saturday.

The Rev. Rob Fisher, rector at St. John’s Church, told The Christian Post in an interview on Tuesday that the event was coordinated with a local arts group called the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute and with the DowntownDC Business Improvement District.

Fisher said that the event was aimed at turning “something that is a bit of an eyesore” into “colorful images offering message of love, healing, togetherness and peace in Jesus’ name.”

“The artists really put their hearts and souls into the works they created. Many expressed to me what an honor it was to decorate the boards on such a historic place,” explained Fisher.

“One of our central themes is the Hebrew word shalom, which means more than the English translation ‘peace’ but ‘wholeness’ or ‘completeness.’”

St. John's Church
In September 2020, a group of volunteers painted murals on the protective plywood panels placed at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Racial justice was a major theme of the work. |

Another major theme was the concept of “ubuntu,” or “our lives are inextricably bound together,” which was championed by noted South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“One thing I hope for with the murals is that while the nature of stained glass windows is to bring light and beauty into a room or worship space, we’re able to flip that script by sending light and beauty outward to our surrounding neighborhood,” continued Fisher.

“The visuals are like the bell we ring in our steeple — they remind us that God is present, that God loves us all, and that it is important, especially in difficult times, to look up! To remember that we are all part of something greater.”

Representatives of the Smithsonian also attended the mural painting event on Saturday, reportedly expressing an interest in having the painted panels once they are eventually removed.

During the months of protests and demonstrations across the United States over racism and police brutality, St. John’s Church found itself in the epicenter of the debate.

During a protest in late May, the building was victim of an arson by an unknown party, in which the nursery caught fire. Later in June, protesters sprayed graffiti on the pillars.

In response to repeated attacks on its property, the church placed plywood over their windows and grudgingly agreed to have security fencing placed around the building.

St. John's Church
In September 2020, a group of volunteers painted murals on the protective plywood panels placed at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Racial justice was a major theme of the work. |

“While we hate both the fencing and the boarded-up windows, one of our main responsibilities as rector and wardens is to protect the buildings. Our hope is to remove both the fencing and plywood as soon as practicable,” stated a letter to the congregation from late June.

The church was the subject of controversy during the summertime when President Donald Trump posed with a Bible in hand in front of the structure.

The president’s actions came after U.S. Park Police and National Guard units cleared away protesters, reportedly using violent tactics to accomplish the task.

Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, expressed outrage over the president’s decision to hold the photo-op in front of St. John’s.

“The President just used a Bible and one of the churches of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for,” she stated at the time.

Fisher told CP on Tuesday that while “there have been some dramatic moments” for the church during the demonstrations, “the vast majority of gatherings that have taken place on the corner where we are located have been peaceful.”

“We are incredibly grateful that the fire was limited to just one room, which was in the church office building and not the church itself,” said Fisher.

“There has been an outpouring of love and support from people near and far and from all kinds of backgrounds since the fire, which we truly appreciate.”    

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