Vandals steal gutters, leaving church at the mercy of the rain

February 24, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

For the last three weeks, it's been raining in the House of the Lord. And it's all because of a devilish act.

"It's just mind-boggling. It's very sad," said the Rev. Raymond Kelly, pastor of the Harlem Park Community Baptist Church, as he stood among drops of water that fell from the church's ceiling onto the pews and the soaked carpet.

The West Baltimore church has been soaked for nearly three weeks. Vandals caused the cascade when they stole copper roof gutters and ripped a hole in the ceiling in an apparent attempt to find more copper.

Mr. Kelly said it appeared that the vandals used a saw to cut away about 30 feet of copper, which commands a high price on the scrap metal market. He discovered the vandalism on Jan. 30, when the roof started to leak after a Sunday morning service.

Since last week, the church's interior has been soaked by a steady downpour as above-freezing temperatures melted snow on the roof. Yesterday's snow, ice and rain sent water streaming into the church. Fifteen containers -- ranging from coffee cans to 30-gallon trash cans -- were placed around the church to catch the water. Large puddles on the carpet preached to the ineffectiveness of the cans. Vinyl sheets were placed on the pews in a vain effort to shield them from water damage.

Church member Bruce Hodge, who was trying to control the damage, said the water once was about two inches deep near the front of the large sanctuary.

"I know I can't catch all the leaks. I'm just trying to preserve some of this," Mr. Hodge said as he busily emptied the containers.

Inside the building at 614 N. Gilmor St. -- once the home of the Harlem Theater -- the air was filled with a musty smell from the damp walls and floors. The church sanctuary was dark. Mr. Kelly said he did not want to risk turning on the lights because of the dangers posed by a water-soaked electrical system.

Despite the problems, he said, he harbored no hostility toward the thieves who caused so much damage. He said he only wants them to read about the problems they have caused and think twice about their victims before hurting someone else.

"I'm only hoping there will be some concern for other people's property," he said. "The few dollars they get for what they have taken will in no way compare to the damage and inconvenience they have put us in."

Mr. Kelly said the church has not been able to hold services in the building for three Sundays. The 300-member congregation has been forced to meet in a church-owned building next door, which also has been burglarized, he said.

"It's a very sad feeling, but there is always the hope, the faith, that we'll see this through," Mr. Kelly said. "Church members have come together."

Mr. Kelly said he does not know how much damage has been done. He said it will cost at least $12,000 to replace the carpet. He's almost certain that insurance will not cover all the costs of replacing the copper piping and the other material.

He said he also is disheartened because the church had to cancel many programs scheduled for its 20th anniversary celebration.

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