Vandals change church sign to ‘God bless the KKK’; Pastor of Oak Park Heights congregation says he’s been a victim of racial prejudice himself

The pastor of an Oak Park Heights church wants the community to know he doesn’t support the message vandals wrote on his church’s sign earlier this week.

Around noon on July 22, police responded to an anonymous report of an inappropriate message on the sign at  Calvary Assembly at 5805 Osgood Avenue in Oak Park Heights. The sign, which once read, “God bless Oak Park Heights,” had been changed to read, “God bless the KKK.”

“We have nothing to do with that,” Pastor John Kuruvilla Kaiyalethe said. 

Kaiyalethe was driving from his Minneapolis home to the church — he usually comes in around noon — when he got a call from an officer about the sign.

“He called me and said, ‘Pastor, we have a problem,’” Kaiyalethe said.

According to the police report, it appeared letters had been rearranged, but none was damaged or missing.

“We changed it right away back to what it was,” Kaiyalethe said. “I’m not a sympather of any kind of bigotry, because I’ve been a victim.

Kaiyalethe, who comes across as polite and soft-spoken, was born in India but is now an American citizen. While he was going to college in the South in 1963, he said, he received threats against him from the KKK. Even so, he’s willing to pray for Klan members, but doesn’t condone their racism.

“I think they could use a little more prayer,” he said.

Kaiyalethe isn’t sure why the church was targeted, but he doesn’t think it has anything to do with his name, which is listed on the church’s website as “KK John.”

“Most people know me as Pastor John,” he said.

His last name is a little more than 2,000 years old, and he nearly changed it after coming to the U.S., but was convinced otherwise.

Kaiyalethe says the recent incident with the sign grieves him because it seems to have offended families in town.

“I want to apologize if this has hurt anyone, even though we had nothing to do with that,” he said.

This isn’t the first time the church has dealt with vandalism.

“A couple of times we have had people changing signs to ridiculous things,” Kaiyalethe said. “This has happened a few times, not much.”

A few years ago, someone changed the sign to say “Dog bless America.” Kaiyalethe discovered it himself and found a ladder to change it immediately, despite a heart condition that limits his physical activity.

He said the church has also had its windows shot with a BB gun, and earlier this year someone drove on the grounds and tore up the lawn.

Police asked him to report any further suspicious activity near the church.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]