CATAWBA -- Vandals marred a 51-year-old church, leaving it defaced with neon pink, green and blue graffiti days before worshippers were to celebrate paying off their fellowship hall.
Members of Catawba Chapel AME Zion Church surveyed the damage Thursday but said the vandalism won't keep them from Sunday's planned celebration.
"I am hurt," lifetime member Rosetta Dunham said. "I am disappointed, but I am not destroyed. They will not steal our joy."
Instead, she said, the Catawba Day celebration will go on Sunday in honor of the members' 11-year goal to pay off the church's fellowship hall at 240 Hall Spencer Road.
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"This is celebration time for us," said Dunham, 50, the church financial secretary and clerk. "We have been working so hard to raise funds to pay off our fellowship hall."
The graffiti is just a hiccup, she said.
"This will not defeat us," she said about the graffiti, some of which conveyed racial overtones. "They can be erased. I would like to invite the people who did this to come celebrate with us."
Nearby, children and adults gathered Thursday for lunch under some trees away from the vandalized walls of the fellowship hall. Its walls were marked with several gang-related symbols and profanity.
"It's not good for kids to come up and see this," said trustee Hezekiah Massey, 63, as the children finished their lunch. "They think it's decoration, but it's not. We're still praying for those who did this."
The fellowship hall was dedicated in 1993 and complements the church, where worshippers have attended since 1957. Members started their Catawba Day fundraising efforts in 1997 to pay off the fellowship hall.
"It started off slow, but we gradually increased from $15,000 to $20,000 to $35,000," Dunham said. "We knew that we'd met our goal last Sunday."
Around 11 p.m. Wednesday, Massey drove by the church to make sure no lights were on, he said.
"There was no activity going on," he said.
Between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the vandals hit. The damage was apparent when Massey arrived Thursday morning.
"I really got choked up," Massey said as he eyed a racial slur that was part of the graffiti. "It was heartbreaking."
Members tried to clean the church Thursday afternoon but had to hire a professional crew to remove the graffiti. Massey said the vandalism won't dampen spirits, dislodge faith or destroy hope.
The church has "come too far to let this turn us around," he said. "We hate for it to look like this, but it won't stop us."
No arrests have been made in the case, said Lt. David Frye of York County Sheriff's Office.
Anyone with information should call the sheriff's office at 628-3059 or CrimeStoppers of York County at 1-877-409-4321.