Uptown Churches Combat Student Vandalism

By Houston Vick

Today at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, steps away from Miami’s campus, a stained-glass St. Thomas, patron saint of scholars, may be watching students with a bit more caution.

St. Mary’s and other Oxford churches often suffer vandalism at the hands of passing students.

“I think there has been a decline in the general fervor of faith,” said Father Jeffrey Silver, pastor of St. Mary’s.

Silver was a Miami student before attending seminary and serving at St. Mary’s. He described the Oxford he knew as a different place than it is today.

“When I was here, the weekend was Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Now it’s Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Sometimes it even starts on Tuesday,” he said.

With earlier weekends come increased chances of vandalism.

“People have decided the confessional would make a good urinal,” said Silver.

Oxford United Methodist Church (OUMC) has only an alley between it and one of Miami’s most popular bars, Brick Street Bar & Grill. OUMC office administrator Susan Walker said the church had to install steel screens in front of the windows that face Brick due to the “countless” times students have shattered them with glass bottles.

“Students have broken one of the railings outside, which is beyond me since it’s metal and poured concrete,” Walker said.

Not a block away from OUMC is Oxford Presbyterian, which has had no shortage of similar issues. Rev. Lawrence Bartel said students have broken benches and defaced other property in his two years at Oxford Presbyterian. Bartel prefers to look at the root causes in an attempt to help, remembering his own college career.

“I know how stressed I felt. Anxiety and stress … it was ever present. I find myself thinking as a pastor: How can we reach out and serve those students who are defacing church property?” he said.

Bartel spoke of a student arrested for kicking a light outside the Presbyterian church, caught when an Oxford police cruiser drove by. Bartel later had lunch with the offending student and saw him participating in worship at the church for several weeks afterwards.

“I trust that experience and those conversations have changed the trajectory of that student’s life,” Bartel said.

Father Silver believes a solution is for students to seek more constructive ways for social interaction while in college.

“I’m not anti-drinking, but I just think that it’s too easy to get to the point where that’s your way of living,” he said.

Silver says more students and a “different approach” from Miami are also changing Oxford’s culture.

“It was much more of a community when I was a student,” Silver said. “I would walk around campus and the president would call me by name. I don’t run into that anymore. The professors care about their students but they also have many more of them and they really have to get things done, so there isn’t that sense of community that I remember,” Silver added.