It's Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada. At four this morning my wife and I were woken up by a loud thump. We raced to the windows to see if we could figure out what had just happened. Another sounded, so I put on some clothes and went outside.
Two vehicles in our neighbor's drive were on fire.
I stayed around long enough to make sure my neighbor wasn't in danger, and to see the fire department get the blazes under control. Then I went back to my house, reported to my wife and went back to bed.
The action had only just started. Our church was hit with a molotov cocktail. So was the Presbyterian church. And the people who own and run the Chinese restaurant had their family van torched.
Their restaurant and home were not damaged, and no-one was hurt, thankfully. Our church is just steps away from our neighbor, so the fire department was able to put out the fire without structural damage to the building (so far as we know). But the Presbyterian church is a gutted ruin.
As of this morning one arrest was made and another was pending. I can't imagine a person does something like this figuring they'll get away with it. But it feels as if our village has been under siege this summer. In August a beautiful old home (same vintage as the church, roughly 130 years old) burned to the ground. There were two bodies inside it, in what was either a double homicide or a murder/suicide. The police haven't announced any closure to that case. I don't think last night was related to the earlier crime, except in a sick tangential way. This is a crazy town for fires.
Several thoughts, in the heat of the moment: (1) the strike against the churches seems like a sad irony. These churches are hardly a symbol of any sort of power -- both congregations have been in steady decline; the Presbyterian church drew Sunday gatherings that numbered below 50. As is typically the case with old churches in languishing towns, the needs of children and the elderly were of chief concern to the pastors and congregations. If torching a church is some sort of "I'M BIGGER THAN GOD!" statement, well ... what could be more pathetic?
(2) Anyone who's been in the vicinity of a burning car knows it is a terrible, toxic stench. In contrast to the burning vehicles, I have to say that by fire's end, the Presbyterian ruins were emanating something far sweeter. The wood was all untreated ... not a lot of plastic or even rubber was going up in smoke. Had this been a fire in the hearth, the odor would have been welcome.
(3) Everyone in town is walking by with their families. Faces are dark. The elderly ladies who go to these churches are in their Sunday clothes, holding each other by the arm. I saw one kid walk by who's earned the reputation of being a troublemaker. He's 17 or 18 years old. His head was ducked low and he wasn't making eye contact with anyone, except one of these elderly ladies. Her face broke into this wide smile of sunshine, and she held her arms out to him, hugged him and kissed him on both cheeks. I'm not making this up; I teared up when I saw it, and I'm crying still.
Our little family stood and watched the final efforts of the firemen at the Presbyterian church. I said, "You know this church isn't really the building, don't you? It's the people." I try to believe that pretty much every day of my life.