Duke Chapel vandalized

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(photo credits)

Last night, Duke Chapel was vandalized. Throughout the past four years, I’ve come to love this chapel and it’s so saddening to me that someone did this. At first I think I felt anger, and then sadness, but then I read this from Dean Wells, and felt thankfulness of how great mentors like Dean Wells can inspire us to look for hope and brightness in situations like this.

From Dean Wells:

You may have heard that three of the Chapel’s stained glass windows were broken on the night of Wednesday, April 27, 2011, during the campus Last Day of Classes celebrations. The holes in the windows are 5-10” in diameter. The windows are all on the lectern side of the main aisle, representing, respectively, the Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem, Jesus upon a pinnacle, and the Transfiguration.

It is too early to speculate about who might have wanted to do this, and about what they would wish others to infer as to the meaning of their actions. For example there were many people on the Duke campus on Wednesday night – students, staff, faculty, and visitors. The Chapel is a symbol of the university as a whole, but also a building with religious and specifically Christian resonances. We can’t know whether the action was simply reckless, or had more sinister intent; whether the target of this gesture was the university as a whole, Christianity in particular, or simply a beautiful and relatively unprotected building.

What we can be a little more sure of is that the rocks used were perhaps 10” wide, and thus heavy; that they must have been brought some distance, since no materials of the kind are available nearby; and that to make three holes, at the same height, at equally-spaced windows, from a distance of perhaps 40 yards, must have required significant strength and notable accuracy of aim. It does not bear the signs of a spontaneous act of vandalism.

In the season of Easter Christians celebrate the way the church came into being in response to Jesus’ resurrection. One of the church’s first ministers was Stephen. His joy in his faith was so effervescent and outspoken that it led to his being stoned to death. One of those who stood by and condoned those events was Saul – who soon afterwards became the apostle Paul, and came to see things very differently.

I believe it’s right to express concern about the directing of stones at the Chapel because there can be a connection between throwing stones at precious buildings and throwing stones at even more precious people. But I also wish to express hope. My prayer is that, just as Paul’s transformation began with his condoning a violent act of stone-throwing, so those who recently saw fit to throw stones at Duke Chapel may soon come to see their actions in a different light – and thus that this sad moment be transformed into the beginning of something beautiful, for them, and for us all.

Sam Wells

Dean of Duke Chapel

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