When the staff of Suffield’s First Congregational Church came to prepare for the Sunday service on October 9, they faced a shocking surprise. At the entrance, alongside the peace and love oriented writing the church encourages with a pan of chalk there, someone had chalked two swastikas, the symbol of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich which came to represent, specifically, Hitler’s efforts to eradicate Jews: the Holocaust. More recently the swastika is often taken to indicate a similar attitude here toward anyone other than white Christians.
Rev. Diann Bailey, pastor of First Church, immediately decided to hold a peace prayer vigil, which took place on the Green by the church Wednesday evening three days later. The word spread variously, and an estimated 80 people attended. After Rev. Bailey opened the event, Rabbi Jeremy Master of Sinai Temple in Springfield offered a Hebrew prayer in English and spoke his thoughts about hatred.
Dr. Mel Chafetz, a retired Suffield educational leader and a current selectman, spoke, telling about his Suffield neighbors, dairy farmer Hermann Roesberg and his wife Margot. They both were German Jews who escaped the Holocaust in about 1939, separately coming for safety to the United States. They met here, married and came to Suffield, where they found acceptance and established a major dairy farm on Mapleton Avenue (now the Matthew Drive development). Rev. Denise Peterson and Rev. Justin Cox, of West Suffield Congregational Church and Second Baptist Church, respectively, offered their thoughts, and Amy Pott of First Church sang a prayer in Hebrew.
After Rev. Bailey closed the vigil with a benediction, she invited those present to follow Alison Hagar, a seminarian at First Church, to add their own chalk thoughts by the church entrance. Then Amy Pott led everyone in singing “Let There be Peace on Earth” and let it begin with me! Rev Bailey had ended her benediction, saying “We will go forward with love,” and there was a lot of love expressed in the remaining graffiti chalked that evening and before where the hateful chalk had been erased.