Members of the Ethiopian communities in Brandon and Winnipeg pack the Ethiopian Orthodox Church at the corner of Queens Avenue and Fifth Street on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the church becoming an official place of worship. (GRAEME BRUCE/BRANDON SUN)
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church at the corner of Queens Avenue and Fifth Street celebrate their first anniversary of the church becoming an official place of worship. (GRAEME BRUCE/BRANDON SUN)
Members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrate on Sunday.
(GRAEME BRUCE/ BRANDON SUN)
The city’s small Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrated its first year as an official place of worship, but the ceremonies also punctuated a year of what church officials call a string of targeted "attacks."
Worku Getahun, the church’s vice-chairman, said the church at the corner of Queens Avenue and Fifth Street has been the target of a series of vandalisms that started last August when the building’s rear stained-glass window was smashed three times over several months. Wooden boards now cover windows, as well as the rear basement windows which were also smashed.
Getahun said the church’s front door was kicked in this past fall and illegible graffiti was scrawled on the inside walls.
In the most recent incident, overnight on May 10, the rear door was smashed in to gain access to the church, but Getahun said no further damage or theft was noticed by church staff.
At the behest of the police, the church has installed a surveillance camera.
In total, Getahun estimates the church had to spend approximately $5,000 to fix the numerous broken windows.
"It seems like aimless attacks just to hurt people emotionally," he said and feels like things could escalate.
"We’re still waiting for the worst. What if there’s a fire? That’s what I’m afraid of. I really am worried."
Brandon Police Service Staff Sgt. Rick Semler said they have four complaints on record from the church dating back to August of last year including one on Aug. 21, Oct. 31, Nov. 15 and the most recent one earlier this month.
During the otherwise jubilant celebration to mark the one-year anniversary of the arrival of the Arc of the Covenant replica to the church on Sunday, Getahun spoke of the battle to the congregation that packed into the small church house, along with many who came by bus from Winnipeg to mark the occasion.
Getahun called upon the Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, who was in attendance, to make a statement regarding the matter.
Decter Hirst told the crowd she is "almost sure" the vandalism is the work of "mindless youth we have today."
"That it’s not an attack on this church, but merely misplaced youth," she told the crowd.
"But I will absolutely speak to the chief of police to make sure we bring these perpetrators to justice ... we cannot have this congregation concerned and feeling anxious that they are not part of building a strong community here in Brandon."
Decter Hirst, who is on the campaign trail for re-election in October, said she "will work very hard to ensure that you feel safe, that the church is respected and together we can grow our communities because of our children."
The congregation itself has existed in Brandon for more than a decade, using the First Presbyterian Church on 12th Street for its services before it became big enough for its own building in 2011.
The church has about 90 members and continues to swell. Getahun suggested the Ethiopian community in Brandon as a whole has reached more than 300 with a major influx following the opening of Maple Leaf Foods’ processing plant.
But the emotional year for the church didn’t keep the crowd from celebrating on Sunday as the hundreds of the smiling churchgoers danced and mingled on the lawn well after worship was complete.
"I could see people were crying," Getahun said following his plea. "For me to see people crying does cause distress."
A nearby homeowner said she believes the vandalism could be targeted, but the area has seen many issues related to tagging and other petty crime.
The woman also said some neighbours get frustrated with how loud the church gets very early in the morning as the church’s worship involves big drums and lots of singing.
Semler said the only noise complaint directed at the church he could find was from this past Sunday — the day of the celebrations — at 5:25 a.m.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 20, 2014