A handful of neighbors sat outside of a Lafayette church Sunday morning as members of a predominantly Black congregation gathered inside to worship. Their silent message was simple: Violence is not welcome here.

Just one day earlier, a duffel bag had been discovered outside of Life Change Ministries at the corner of University and Oaklawn avenues. Inside, there was a shotgun with the serial number filed off, bullets, a cellphone and a change of clothes.

The bag was turned over to the Lafayette Police Department, but the disturbing discovery left the church's pastor and congregants unsettled. 

They've wondered if the bag could have been hidden behind the church after a crime or if the bag was stashed there in preparation of an attack on those inside the church.

"Considering everything going on at the time and this being a predominantly Black congregation, it just makes you wonder," said Louis "L.J." Miller, pastor of the nondenominational church. "Hopefully, God keeps his angels around to protect us."

Brian Schnieder and his wife, Kelly Clayton, asked their neighbors to sit outside of the church Sunday morning to show their solidarity with the congregation and against violence. The couple, who are white, were pleased to see a few others join them Sunday morning.

"We just did this because it's the right thing to do, as neighbors and as a community," said Schnieder, who lives across the street from the church. "You change the world one face and one action at a time."

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The church is located at the edge of the Saint Streets and downtown neighborhoods near University Avenue's intersection with Congress Street.

Sunday marked the third week of indoor services after several weeks of online-only services because of the coronavirus. 

Miller, who is Black, said he is thankful the predominantly White neighborhood is supportive of the church during a time of national protests over racial inequality and police brutality against Black people.

"I'm very grateful the church is located in such a good community," the pastor said. "If I had one complaint, it's that we weren't able to get law enforcement out here to do patrol during the service."

Miller said he reached out to the Lafayette Police Department to request patrol but was unable to reach anyone because the office is closed to the public because of the coronavirus.

A Police Department spokesman reached Sunday afternoon was not familiar with the specific situation but said anyone who wants to request patrol can always dial 911 to speak to a dispatcher.

"The department is closed," said Sgt. Wayne Griffin. "But we always respond to nonemergency calls. You can always dial 911, even if it's not an emergency."


Email Megan Wyatt at mwyatt@theadvocate.com.