• 72°

Nothing sacred

Ironton churches fall victim to theft, vandalism


Every Sunday morning, Jack Pemberton gets to church a little early to tune the six strings of his mahogany D-18 Martin guitar.

The pastor of Lorain Street Missionary Gospel Church has played and sung during services for decades and has strummed that specific Martin for the past 27 years, a gift from his late sister.

“I’ve always taken it with me and sung,” Pemberton said. “I sing in the church, other places and funerals.”

About three weeks ago, Pemberton showed up to church to find the acoustic guitar missing, along with another guitar and a bass.

“We’ve been there 24 years and that’s the first time they have taken any guitars,” Pemberton said. “They have broken in once before and got two cartons of Pepsi and about $30 from the church that the little kids put their pennies in every Sunday morning. We don’t keep money in the church.”

Lorain Street isn’t the only church to be hit by vandals or thieves in recent weeks.

Jan Williams, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said windows of the church have been broken out — once about two weeks ago and again Monday.

“We have no idea who is doing this or if there is a concerted effort or if it’s just somebody being goofy, but it’s very frustrating,” Williams said.

Williams said nothing appears to have been stolen, but the incidents worry the staff.

“It makes everyone feel unsafe,” Williams said. “You don’t know when you’re walking into the building who you might meet coming out of a room.”

There was a similar incident at St. Lawrence O’Toole Catholic Church about two weeks ago.

Father David Huffman said the door of the church was bent from what looked like hammer marks. The would-be intruder didn’t gain entry into the church itself, but managed to open the basement door, as well as a garage window. Nothing appears to have been taken, Huffman said, because there was nothing much to take.

Monday at Greater Faith Apostolic Church, Pastor J.J. Sherrill found two large promotional flags missing from the churchyard.

“They left the one that was closest to the security light,” Sherrill said. “The other two were taken and completely pulled up from the ground. They are 9 feet tall. Where do you take something like that and what do you do with it? It has no value to anybody outside of the church. It’s not like you can take that and sell it or use it. It’s just outright vandalism and theft to take away something from the church, who gives to the poor and serves the community.”

There have also been incidents at other churches in the community, such as St. Paul Lutheran and First United Methodist.

Williams said the break-ins have left her church with tough decisions to make about how to operate in a community where the trust has been broken.

“We want to welcome people,” Williams said. “We don’t want to have a fortress mentality where nobody feels welcome. On the other hand we want to protect our secretary, our custodian, and other people who work there.”

Sherrill said investing in a security system may help, but operating on a small budget that is funded though mostly donations, that solution doesn’t seem realistic.

“When you’re a church operating on donations already, it’s not like you can go and invest $500 in a camera system,” Sherrill said. “… Even still, who is to say they don’t vandalize your cameras? Who is to say they don’t find another way in?”

Huffman agreed, saying, “I think with today’s difficulties, some people have the mindset, ‘If somebody has it, I can take it.’”

Pemberton said no longer would he or his other church members leave instruments and other valuables overnight in the church.

The church leaders said they were frustrated with the incidents and that it seems nothing is sacred anymore.

“Hundreds of years ago, the law couldn’t even pursue you into a sanctuary,” Huffman said. “It was God’s domain. Some people disregard that. They have no concept of the sacred today. It’s certainly God’s territory and people invade that.”

“It used to be churches were kind of off-limits to things like this,” Williams said. “Nowadays, nobody has that kind of respect that they used to. But maybe they didn’t. Maybe that was just a myth of the 50s, that churches were sacrosanct.”

Pemberton said he hopes whoever took his guitar and the other instruments will seek forgiveness for what they have done.

“I can’t understand. When I was in my wildest years before I ever came to the Lord, I would never bother a church or Christian people. I would never do that,” he said. “But we love these people, even though they broke in on us. We have the love of God in our hearts for them and we pray someday they will see their need and come to the Lord and repent.”