MANHATTAN — An Upper West Side Unitarian Universalist church, known for its commitment to social justice issues, was vandalized with two swastikas carved into its wooden doors along Central Park West on Tuesday.
Staff from the Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York, located across from Central Park at West 76th Street, discovered the swastikas on the morning of Feb. 28. They contacted the police and did their best to minimize the appearance of the offensive images, the church’s Rev. Schuyler Vogel said.
The church is working to permanently fix the doors.
The Fourth Universalist is among the growing number of houses of worship pledging to provide refuge to undocumented immigrants in the event of future raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement whether by offering temporary space or food for those housed at other churches and synagogues. Its recent decision to join the sanctuary movement was featured in a recent DNAinfo New York article.
The progressive church, which dates back to the 1830s, also has a Black Lives Matter banner hanging on its facade, and its small congregation of nearly 120 members includes a significant number of Jewish individuals, Vogel said.
“Initially I was shocked and disturbed that someone would choose to violate a house of worship with such hateful symbolism,” he said. “Our congregation has Jewish members, and even someone who fled the Nazi's themselves, so the symbol has real power here."
The vandals also etched the words "race office" into the doors. After doing some research, Vogel learned that there were several offices within the Nazi party that were referred to as "race offices" or "racial offices" in their English translations.
“Fortunately, we have been overwhelmed with support,” Vogel continued. “It has been really touching how the community has responded. It is an important reminder that true justice work is never easy, and that we must respond not with fear, but with renewed courage and strength.”
The church has been in touch with neighbors and its contacts at the Faith in New York network, which had reached out to Fourth Universalist about joining the sanctuary movement. They are planning an interfaith event to publicly respond to the vandalism, Vogel said.
“It should be a powerful way for the city's faith communities and leaders to come together and stand on the side of love,” he said.
The congregation doesn’t know who was responsible for the property destruction, but Vogel said it would not deter them from being a refuge for immigrants or a voice against such acts of hatred and bigotry.
"All great progress is vehemently opposed, and we should expect nothing less," Vogel said. "My hope is that it will steel our courage, build deeper connections within our larger community and allow for us to move forward towards a more kind and just world."
The city’s Commission on Human Rights saw the number of new investigations into discrimination skyrocket 60 percent in 2016, and the NYPD reported a 30 percent increase in hate crimes at the end of the year.