Balto. County Churches Are Burglary Victims

Eight Churches And Parish House Struck By Thieves Since End Of June

July 30, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Churches, beware of thieves.

A rash of break-ins and burglaries of Baltimore County churches over the past few weeks has left congregants anxious and police baffled but pastors forgiving.

"Folks are very afraid," said Edward Campbell, a 65-year-old Cockeysville resident who was appalled that the church he attends, Epworth United Methodist, had been burglarized during the night of July 17. It was one of eight churches in the area and one parish house known to have been struck by thieves since the end of June.

"When they start robbing a church, you know they've been robbing other places already," Campbell said. "What kinds of folks do we have here now?"

Little of significance was taken and none of the churches was desecrated, although there remains a pervasive sense that robbing a place of worship is beyond the pale.

"It's a sign of the times, unfortunately, that people don't have respect for things that are holy," said Rev. Kimberly Hall, lead pastor at Epworth, where she led the congregation in a prayer for whomever had broken into the church's office. "There's no sense of anger here, but we do want to pray for these individuals. Obviously, there's something missing."

The thieves got away from Hall's church with $40 in petty cash as well as a heavy safe. "They probably thought, 'Wow, jackpot,' " she said. "But there was nothing in it."

The Rev. Ray Deal, pastor of Cockeysville Baptist Church, said there is "a lot of drug-dealing" in the area, especially on Cranbrook Road a couple of blocks from the sanctuary. "When you bring that into it, you have people who are desperate for cash," he said. "But a church is probably not the best place to look for cash."

At Cockeysville Baptist, the burglar entered through a window and took an undisclosed amount of cash.

"In a lot of South American countries, people would never steal from a church," Deal said. "I've talked to people from down there who were surprised that Americans are more callous about doing something like that."

Clergymembers said they had taken steps to improve security, including in at least one case making plans to install an alarm system. A spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department said there are no suspects in the burglaries and only a few leads.

About a month ago, someone broke into the parish house of Sherwood Episcopal Church and stole several pieces of antique furniture and some artifacts that had belonged to the church for more than 100 years. An e-mail from the Sherwood Hills Improvement Association said two people recalled seeing "a young man standing in the cemetery with something large that was covered up with a sheet."

The rector at Sherwood, Joanna White, was circumspect about the burglary. "In the whole scope of things, it's not a big deal," she said. "When you balance it against the horrendous losses that some people are suffering, it's merely a pain. But man, they have nerve."

Guy Hawtin, for 20 years the rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal, also played down the break-in at his church. The thieves, he said, took about $250, which was "better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."

"These fellows spent a lot of time rifling through my desk, which falls under the category of penance," Hawtin said. "What they found were a lot of pieces of paper I should have thrown out a long time ago."

Baltimore County church burglaries

Between June 30 and July 2

* Sherwood Episcopal Church parish house, 5 Sherwood Road, Cockeysville; furniture and artifacts.

July 17-18

* Poplar Grove United Methodist Church,13600 Poplar Hill Road, Phoenix; cash.

* Cockeysville Baptist Church, 232 Warren Road, Cockeysville; cash.

* Epworth United Methodist Church, 600 Warren Road, Cockeysville; $40 in cash and an empty safe.

July 20-21

* Saint Thomas Episcopal Church, 1108 Providence Road, Towson; unknown loss.

* St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 11856 Mays Chapel Road, Timonium; at least $250, a dozen bottles of wine, food and a lunch box.

July 26-27

* Maryland Presbyterian Church, 1105 Providence Road, Towson; computer monitor, $7 and checks.

* Divinity Lutheran Church, 1220 Providence Road, Towson; nothing taken.

* Providence Methodist Church, 1318 Providence Road, Towson; office ransacked but nothing taken.

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