When worshipers at Glendale's largest Protestant church arrived for services Sunday morning, they were greeted with a black spray-painted message emblazoned across a tan brick wall: "God Is Dead."
But by early afternoon, members of the close-knit congregation of First United Methodist Church had changed from Sunday best into work clothes and were already back at church, painting over the 29 bits of satanic graffiti--pentagrams, inverted crosses and other sacrilegious scrawlings.
Wielding paintbrushes and rollers alongside them were worshipers from Glendale's Temple Sinai, whose synagogue was recently desecrated by half a dozen orange swastikas, and who received a warm letter of support from the Glendale church.
"It was important for (congregants) to see it," said Senior Pastor Philip Wood, who ditched his prepared sermon Sunday to discuss the incident with his congregation.
"And it was good for them to understand that what happened to the exterior of the church did not affect our spirit or our worship inside the sanctuary. What those people did could not reach us there."
On Sunday morning, worshipers had been greeted by the sight of black spray-painted pentagrams, the number 666--the biblical mark of the devil--and slurs in Latin and English marring the doors and brick walls of the church.
One of the 29 spray-painted signs and symbols read "Black Metal Mafia." Police do not recognize that insignia and suspect it is the product of "some kid's imagination," said Glendale Police Sgt. Robert MacLeod. Police are investigating "some workable leads" in the current case, MacLeod said.
Churchgoers were initially outraged but soon reacted with a sense of purpose, and many applied themselves to the cleanup.
"Many were angry. Many felt violated," said Wood of the 1,500-member congregation. Nevertheless, he said, all three scheduled Sunday services were held, and by the end of the day, Wood had received a score of calls of support from across the region.
Alfredo Guerrero, a church custodian, discovered the slogans and signs when he arrived for work shortly after 7 a.m., said Wood.
Wood, chairman of the city's Hate Response Task Force, called Mayor Eileen Givens who, with two City Council members, turned up for Sunday services and, as they did when the synagogue was defaced, stayed around while the church broke out the brushes and paint to help conceal the graffiti until city crews sandblasted the bricks Monday.
As chairman of the task force, Wood dealt with the city's response last October to the desecration of the synagogue. But Wood said nothing could have prepared him for having his own church defiled.
"It is one thing to be in solidarity with someone else," Wood said, "but you are never really prepared for your own violation, whether it is your home burglarized, or your body assaulted, or your place of worship desecrated."