Lents’ Pilgrim Lutheran one of five SE Portland churches vandalized

Is this crime wave against houses of worship in our area a coordinated act, hate crimes, or random acts? Find out what we learned, as we looked into this distressing story …

One of the few remaining members of the church, Nancy Tingley, points to where vandals poked a garden hose into their lower level – and turned on the water.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Over the years, East Portland News has brought you many stories of events that have taken place at the Pilgrim Lutheran Church, on SE 91st Avenue, a block north of SE Holgate Boulevard.

Although the congregation has currently shrunk to about ten members, Pilgrim Lutheran serves as a community center, hosting annual Harvest Festivals and health clinics. They’ve offered their downstairs meeting room to the Lents Food Group, Lents International Farmer’s Market committee, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous fellowships, and many other civic organizations.

Industrial dehumidifiers in both the sanctuary and the activity room below – as well as high velocity blowers – are starting to dry out the church; but the flooding damage is significant.

Midnight dastardly deeds done
“Someone came here late on Labor Day night (September 7) or very early on Tuesday morning and did this,” Nancy Tingley, 40-year member of the congregation and a church council member, told us when we visited the church.

Tingley showed us where vandals broke a pane out of a stained glass window on the north side of the church – it faces away from the street, hidden from view – fed a garden hose through the window, and then turned on the water. “They did the same thing downstairs; but it looks like the hose slipped back out and mainly flooded the lower level walkway.”

Water gushes in all night
The situation went undiscovered, Tingley said, until about 8:30 a.m. on September 8. “The daughter of one of our church member’s daughters was walking to school, when she saw water squirting all over from the lower level. She called her parents. We’re not too sure how long the water ran, but we do know that hundreds – perhaps thousands – of gallons of water went into the sanctuary.”

It was through this broken pane that vandals stuffed a garden hose, then turned on the water – and let it run all night long.

The water flowed across the carpet-covered wooden floor of the sanctuary, and made its way down heating ducts, through vents, and into crawl spaces where the sprinkler system piping is run.

“There was water standing everywhere, at least an inch,” Tingley continued. “It was dripping from everywhere. Water had been pouring out of a fire sprinkler hole, dumping water down onto our piano all night long.”

Structure remains intact
“We are worried about the structural integrity of the building,” Tingley went on.  “Fortunately, after a pretty good inspection, they say there is no structural damage to the building that can’t be repaired.”

However, it looks as if all of the drywall on the fully-finished lower level activity room will have to be ripped out and replaced.

Blake Cole, with Dow Columbia Restoration, was one of several specialists on scene, working diligently to mitigate the water damage.

The clean-up begins
Up in the sanctuary, a half-dozen giant, stainless steel-clad dehumidifiers and air blowers – hooked up to thick power cables, hot-wired into the church’s main breaker box by a licensed electrician – began to dry out the carpeting and lower fixtures.

On the lower level, we found Blake Cole, with Dow Columbia Restoration, pulling down plasterboard from a soffit. Walking up to get a better look, we got too close; both of us were soaked by the gallons of water that came raining down.

“And this is after wet-vacuuming out hundreds of gallons of water, and 24 hours of drying,” Cole observed. As we wrung out our shirts, he added, “There’s no sense or no logic to it. It’s too bad the people who did this they couldn’t put that effort into constructive activities.”

Even the industrial-strength dehumidifiers in the basement can’t remove the water from behind the drywall, Cole said, over the din of floor-level blowers.

Members say it will take a lot of work, and cost a lot of money, to restore their church to usable condition.

Says members are ‘devastated’
“We’re not a controversial, strange group – we’re Lutherans,” Tingley said ruefully, as she struggled to understand the evil deed done to their 46-year-old church. “The most controversial thing was several years ago when we were trying to help a few homeless people get on their feet.”

She wasn’t alone in those feelings, Tingley said. “All the members of the congregation are just devastated. We have no idea why anyone would do this. Why would anyone do such a thing; for what reason?”

Unlike previous years, it looks as if there can’t be a Harvest Festival on Halloween night here this October 31, like they did last year. East PDX News file photo

Harvest Fest canceled; roof can’t wait
Preparations for their October 31 Harvest Festival have been put on hold, she commented. “We just don’t know how much work will have to be done.”

Adding insult to injury, the church put a down payment on a new roof, just an hour before they found out about the vandalism. “The roof is already leaking right now, down the front of the altar – and we’re really concerned about making it to this winter. We are going ahead with the new roof anyway.”

Several churches vandalized
Portland Police Bureau East Precinct detectives are working on the case, we learned. “If somebody saw something, please call the police and let them know,” Tingley pleaded. “If the vandals are targeting churches, the need to be stopped, and called to answer for what they’ve done.”

Stained glass windows and doors were smashed River Oaks Foursquare Church in Westmoreland early on September 6. The roof on a nearby Mormon church building was also damaged. Six large windows were broken at the Holy Family Catholic Church School on SE 39th Ave. – as well as the stained glass church entry door, and vandal damage was also reported at Moreland Presbyterian Church in Westmoreland as well.

“Detectives and Neighborhood Response Officers from both Central and East Precinct are collaborating on these crimes,” said Portland Police Bureau spokesperson, Detective Mary Wheat.

Want to help? Donate funds, or offer your help to restore Pilgrim Lutheran by calling them at (503) 774-2497 (leave a message on their machine of they can’t pick up)  or send a check to Pilgrim Lutheran at 4244 SE 91st Ave, 97266.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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