PARKVILLE, Mo. — Parkville, Missouri police are investigating vandalism and a break-in at one of the oldest remaining African Methodist Episcopal churches west of the Mississippi.

Longtime Washington Chapel A.M.E. members say prayers have already been answered as the thieves had a change of heart.

The cornerstone says the church was built in 1907 by former slaves. A piece of the church that was stolen predates even that.

Sisters Cora Thompson and Pearl Spencer have been members of Washington Chapel for more than 70 years.

“As we all grew up this was like the heart blood of our activities,” Spencer said.

Spencer proudly holds the photo of the freed slaves who built the church with help from students at then Park College. now Park University.

In the 1870s the original chapel on campus was destroyed by fire, a stained glass window bearing the name of the college’s founder, John McAfee was the only thing not damaged.

“Dr. McAfee said he wanted that window installed in the new church that the ex-slaves had built,” Thompson said.

It remained there until late last month the sisters discovered the window shattered and the name plate stolen. A cinder block on the steps below, items rummaged through in the sanctuary and a door unlocked inside have led police to believe it was vandalism and perhaps a break in. The sisters believe it was also a hate crime.

“What other than hate and evilness would motivate you to do such destructive and negative things?” Thompson asked.

So they organized a community vigil of prayer and healing this past weekend at the church that hasn’t been in use since 2021. Just as they were setting up Spencer made an amazing discovery.

“I opened the door and then when I looked down the name  and several other pieces of stained glass had been returned,” she said.

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“I just kept saying ‘thank you God, thank you God’ only God can make people do what’s right,” Thompson exclaimed.

Church members hope to raise money for restorations to reopen the church and say the 150-year-old name plate will be returned front and center in that stained glass window.

Parkville Police say they have been following up a couple leads but no arrests have been made. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact police.