VALE — Emergency services personnel responded to a fire at a Vale church early Monday morning and found “anti-gay” graffiti spray-painted in three locations behind the church.

Local fire departments responded to Providence Baptist Church in the 7500 block of Providence Church Road at approximately 2 a.m., and were able to contain the flames in spite of a considerable amount of smoke damage, church member Melanie Whitener said.

Whitener said the fire was centralized in the Sunday school classrooms in the downstairs area of the church.

“We’re not sure how far the fire reached; smoke damage did at least extend to the upstairs,” Whitener said. “The space is not usable at this point.”

Outside the church were three areas spray-painted with the same message in red lettering, “anti-gay hate group.”

The three locations included a sidewalk outside the back of the church, a back wall of the church and the bus garage behind the cemetery adjacent to the church.

Whitener, a 30-year member of the church, said the graffiti is not related to the church’s message or mission.

“That is not part of our message; we want to love the people in this community and the church, and share a message of faith and hope and encouragement,” Whitener said.

When asked why someone would target a church she called a “staple of the community,” Whitener was at a loss for words.

“I have no idea. It doesn’t make sense to me why someone would want to destroy a church,” Whitener said. “I’m sure they didn’t know what those classrooms were used for, but to destroy the classes that our children are in, it doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Members were outside the church Monday morning, dutifully cleaning up soot-covered boxes for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.

The boxes will be delivered to children across the world and are scheduled to be sent to the collection center in Hickory later in the week.

The boxes included toiletries, school supplies and toys, among other items.

Whitener also said a prayer meeting would be at the church at 6 p.m. Monday, and programs will resume as regularly scheduled despite the damage.

“We’re still going to have Wednesday night services; we’ll still have Sunday services,” she said. “This is not going to stop us from opening the church doors as we always do.”

The fire is under investigation by the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and several local fire departments.

In closing, Whitener invited the person responsible for the incident to visit the church to “come and experience the fellowship.”

“All you have to do is walk through the doors, and you see that it’s not about hate; we’re nothing about hate, and we’re just about trying to love and support each other through the life that each of us live,” she said.

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Max Seng is the crime reporter for the Hickory Daily Record. ​

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