PORTLAND, OR (January 31, 2017) – It was a frightening moment for the roughly 40 worshipers at Access Covenant Church on Sunday when a man came forward and began shouting that Muslims were going to hell.
The man along with four other men and a teenage boy walked into the church during Joel Sommer’s sermon. “We meet at a community center so it’s not unusual for somebody to come off the street,” he said.
Sommer happened to be preaching on Ephesians 2 and the power of Christ to overcome evil and what “a new humanity where everyone was invited would look like.” He also talked about the call to love Muslims.
Near the end of the service as is their custom, the congregation gathered in a semicircle near the front to pray. That was when the man joined the group and began cursing the church and denouncing Muslims.
“It went on for about 60 to 90 seconds,” Sommer said. “When we didn’t give him a strong reaction, they walked out.”
When the group first entered the church, members invited them to sit down but they declined, choosing to stand in the back. Sommer said after the incident that volunteers working the sound board and PowerPoint presentation became uncomfortable. An area for toddlers also is located in the back of the church, which heightened anxiety.
That morning a woman also happened to bring a banner to church that she was going to deliver along with flower to the local mosque as a way of showing support. “I said, ‘Let’s make that the response to our service,’” Sommer said. “The church would write notes of love and support, and then we’d deliver them.”
Sommer said he didn’t realize until after the group left that several children and women were crying. “I hadn’t realized how rattled and threatened they felt.”
After the men left, Sommer talked about overcoming evil, and the congregation continued with communion.
Sommer said today, “It was spiritual warfare, and the enemy wants to intimidate us,” but the church remains committed to “radical love.”
Following the service, people from the church delivered the banner and flowers to the local imam and his wife.
The men who entered the sanctuary are part of a group that has been preaching hate in the region, said Sommer, adding that earlier that morning they had verbally assaulted Latino parishioners arriving to worship at a local Catholic church.
After leaving Access, they went to the Portland International Airport and caused an incident that turned violent.
Sommer said the church has received words of support from neighbors.