Garden vandalism surprises church members

Sometime between late Friday, Aug. 8, and the morning of Sunday, Aug. 10, the meditative garden at Cross of Life Community Church was vandalized.
The damage at the church, located a mile east of Princeton on Highway 95, will require the replacement of a number of decorative items and some vegetation. Bev Severson, wife of the church’s pastor, Joel Severson, described the vandalism as hurtful to the people who have donated things to the garden and have felt close to the garden.
She talked about the vandalism shortly after the weekend’s damage. The Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.

Bev Severson looks at the pile of broken glass ornaments from the recent vandalism at Cross of Life Community Church. Photo by Joel Stottrup Union Eagle
Bev Severson looks at the pile of broken glass ornaments from the recent vandalism at Cross of Life Community Church. Photo by Joel Stottrup Union Eagle

A small apple tree was broken on the south end of the 8-year-old landscaped garden, which has ornamental glass items, water fountains and some religious symbols, including the paths in the shape of a cross, and three large wooden crosses.
Broken glass from the vandalized ornaments was lying in a pile on the edge of the garden the morning of Aug. 12 as Bev Severson looked over the garden. Up on the gazebo and stage at the north end of the garden stood a badly damaged, nearly life-size fiberglass lion. Its body had big tear holes in it, and the fiberglass globe that the lion’s right paw had stood on was broken. Severson said she didn’t know if the lion and globe could be repaired.
She pointed out that whoever did the damage avoided breaking the garden’s religious symbols, including the three wooden crosses there. But there was plenty of damage elsewhere in the garden. It included broken lattice work and railings on the gazebo and stage, a damaged garden water fountain and ripped up shrubs. A decorated metal arbor that had been used for a wedding at the garden the Friday afternoon leading into the weekend of the vandalism was also bent and may not be repairable.
Rocks were thrown around from one of the two water fountains at the garden, some picnic tables were knocked over and a no-parking sign was thrown. A small swing set had been torn out of its moorings.
Open for the community
“We knew this could happen because it is open to the community,” Severson said. “We want people to come to it and enjoy the scenery, spend time with God or have a picnic. But don’t come and vandalize it.”
When her husband saw it, she said, he commented that it looked like there had been a “spiritual war” going on at the garden, referring to the untouched spiritual symbols there.
“It’s just so sad, the whole thing,” she said.
During that Sunday morning, church members gathered at the garden, held hands and prayed for vandal or vandals, Severson said.
The garden’s history
Joel Severson had the vision to build the garden, Bev Severson said.
“It all started with the church having all this land and Joel said, ‘Let’s build a garden,’” she explained.
Three groups were assigned to come up with a design on their own and come back and show their results. Joel Severson had only one stipulation – that the design should be such that “when God looks down from heaven, he will know it’s for him, and it will not be just any garden,” Severson said.
When the three subcommittees came back, they each happened to have come up with the same basic design concept, according to the Seversons.
Two days after the weekend of vandalism, some women of Cross of Life were making glass ornaments out of some of the many pieces of glassware that church members have collected for that purpose. Severson called making the pieces “therapy.”
Severson asked that if anyone noticed something or someone at the garden that was out of the ordinary during the weekend of the vandalism, the church would like them to report it to the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s office, 888-860-8250.