Aug 26 2005
By Katie Archer
TEENAGE vandals who scrawled satanic carvings in a Sutton churchyard have been forgiven by the vicar, who instead of reporting them to police invited them in for coffee.
The Rev Sarah Goacher found a pentagram, often used to depict Satanism, and the number 666 scratched onto tombstones out-side St Nicholas Church.
The gang behind the images has proved a constant menace for the church's congregation, intimidatingly hanging around the churchyard, dumping rubbish and regularly disturbing the peace.
But, after finding the satanic symbols, Ms Goacher offered to talk to the youths about any problems in their lives.
Deciding not to immediately confront them about the satanic signs she also invited the youngsters back whenever they felt in need of help and hopes in time they will open up about why they felt the need to scrawl the images.
She said: "They probably don't realise the sign of the Beast (666) is actually used in the Book of Revelations in the Bible.
"Some people think Satanism is something they would like to be associated with, but they probably don't have a clue what it involves.
"They may think it's trendy, but I would like to talk to them about why they want to use satanic signs and what they mean."
Although some churchgoers suggested police should be called, Ms Goacher decided human kindness was needed and believes the teenagers need to be welcomed into the church.
She said: "I rather like having them sitting in the churchyard, actually, but it's sad when they become intimidating.
"I think it's nice that young people choose to come and sit on the steps of a church rather than sitting outside somewhere like McDonalds."
The gang have caused problems with their littering, noise and scat-tering of broken glass, particularly late at night.
But things came to a head last week with the scrawling of the satanic signs.
Ms Goacher said: "At first I was offended, annoyed and frustrated.
When people complain about it, I tell them I feel the same way, but I think we have to find a solution together.
"Although the congregation do feel angry, they also feel sorry for the youngsters and a lot of them agree with what I'm doing."
Ironically, Ms Goacher was giving a sermon on Sunday about conflict resolution when some of the youths asked if they could come inside and listen to the service.
The vicar then invited them to stay behind for coffee and she now hopes the chat they had may be the first step to resolving their own conflict.
She said: "I do get cross some days when I can't get any peace and quiet at home.
"But I think looking at the reasons behind their behaviour may be more helpful than just slagging them off.
"It is a public space that they can use, but they need to respect the space because old people and children use it too.
"If we don't clean up the mess, it will soon become a ghetto for dark and shady practices."
She hopes her congregation will get behind her and help the youngsters blighting their lives.
She said: "I'm hoping to get others involved in keeping the church open out of hours to offer them refreshments.
" I can't do all this on my own and nor should I have to.
"I think young people find it useful to come and chill out here, because the church has been around for a thousand years and they may have issues understanding how they fit in.
"I have to be realistic, but I'm an optimist or I wouldn't be a priest and I think we have had a mini breakthrough."