For years, the front wall of Pilgrim Church in Silver Spring has featured a Pride banner that read “God is still speaking,” proudly welcoming all through the church doors. Around 2 p.m. Sunday, the banner was vandalized with a cut through the words.
In efforts to let the vandals know that the church and its congregation will not be deterred or swayed from welcoming all, the sign is not only being repaired, but it will be hung back on the front of the building this weekend, according to the church’s pastor, Rev. Michael Vanacore.
It was the general consensus of the congregation to not replace the banner but to repair it “to send the message that it means something, both the original banner as it was and that they’re not going to force us to spend money every time,” Vanacore said. “They could tear the banner down if they want, we would still repair it and put it up. We’re not ashamed of anything, we’re just putting it back up.”
In the early 2000s, the church, of Protestant denomination, voted to become open and affirming, welcoming members of the LGBT community. Vanacore said he believes the banner was placed around that time.
Stephanie Hait, the church’s treasurer volunteered to repair the banner. After conducting research Hait said she found that the best way to repair the vinyl banner was traditional duct tape.
Hait, who is also a member of the LGBT community, has been a member of the church since 2015 and said she has always felt welcome.
“Myself and my partner were allowed to come anytime, and we were cherished as much as any other person is something that was very important to me,” she said. “It is very clear that it is something that is equally felt by other members of the congregation.”
At least since the beginning of his tenure, which dates back to 2021, Vanacore said the banner has not been vandalized. Due to the lack of incidents, the vandalism both was and wasn’t a shock to church members as they also know of other occurrences throughout the country.
“We’re very aware that signs like these, either Pride signs like these or Black Lives Matter banners, or Trans Lives Matter banners, there’s a high level of them being torn down in different places and we know that that’s happening in other houses of worship,” he said. “So, it’s not a surprise necessarily but I think it is a shock to this congregation nonetheless.”
Vanacore described the banner vandalism as a violation to him and members of his church.
“Because it’s such a part of the church’s façade and the church’s history, I think it’s very much like a violation and a shock because this is where people come to worship, primarily, more than anything,” he said.
A police officer happened to be in the church parking lot when the vandalism was discovered so they could report it on the scene, Vanacore said.
Montgomery County police did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Bethesda Beat.
The church did not have any surveillance equipment prior to the incident, but a congregation member donated security cameras after it occurred. They are now working to increase the church’s security.
“It has been a motivator to get more serious about the security of our congregation and our property,” Vanacore said.
Vanacore said in efforts to increase security church staff will attend a training session by the county in coming months about increasing security, create a security plan and apply for grants to fund the increased security.
Hait said her initial reaction to the vandalism was a combination of sad and angry.
“Someone damaging the banner doesn’t change what we believe in and, if anything, it almost makes it stronger,” she said. “I know now every time I go into the parking lot at I see our banner – with a little line cause you’re not going to get it where it looks perfect again, you’re going to see evidence that it was damaged – but every time I see that, I’m going to be reminded of it happening and I’m going to feel a sense of pride that our church and our congregation didn’t let hatred win.”
Even after the incident, Vanacore said he still sees the community as very open and welcoming and friendly towards the LGBT community.
“I think we’ve all been seeing other things that are going around even this part of the county and definitely broadly across the country,” he said. “Acts of violent and attacks on houses of worship but it hasn’t at this particular congregation, and it feels like a safer area.”
Recently in Montgomery County, there have been increased graffiti and other hateful acts towards the Jewish community.
Antisemitic flyers were discovered Sunday morning on porches of over a dozen Kensington residents. Last week, swastikas were found drawn on the desks at Thomas S. Wootton High School and Tilden Middle School in Rockville. Wednesday, antisemitic graffiti was found scrawled on the desk of a Magruder High School student.
In November, Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church rededicated its progress Pride flag after it was targeted twice. The first time it was stolen and the second time it was cut down the flagpole, according to a release from the church.
Vanacore said he’s noticed “very organized fascistic activity” occurring throughout the country.
“We have to take them seriously and we have to protect ourselves and our communities and the ones that we hold dear.”
As for Pilgrim Church, the banner will return to its rightful place Sunday following worship and the congregational meeting.
Vanacore said regardless of the incidents, acts like these will not be met with the violence they have faced.
“As a house of worship and for us as Christians, we do not want to respond to this kind of activity on the same level of violent or hatred,” he said. “We believe in a lot of justice and mercy and peace, so we do aspire and hope for a different society. One that is not as violent, and we all can be accepted.”