Clergy concerned over recent Absecon and Galloway church break-ins

| August 13, 2010

Three churches in Galloway Township and Absecon experienced break-ins last month, and while the incidents were not serious, some church officials fear they could be related.

Two of those churches — Absecon United Methodist Church and the Church of St. Mark and All Saints — are just a few blocks apart on Pitney Road, and nothing of significant value was taken at either, although both received property damage.

The Church of St. Mark and All Saints did not file a police report, the Rev. Mantelle Bradley said, because she didn’t think it was worth it.

But the most recent break-in, discovered on July 25, at Reformation Lutheran Church on Shore Road in Galloway, left Pastor Heather Sugden baffled at what was taken: about $400 in gift cards to a local grocery store and a brand new riding lawn mower that Sugden said the thief had to cut through a thick chain to take.

“When it was just the (gift cards), we hoped that somebody was hungry, but when we saw the lawn mower — to think they could do something like that and nobody would notice it,” Sugden said. “You want to help the community, and you don’t want to be jaded by something like this, you don’t want to lock the doors and keep the community out. But you get scared.”

Galloway police Sgt. Kevin Mott said there was no way to tell if there was a pattern because one church did not file a police report, and he hadn’t heard of the Absecon break-in. There was another church break-in a few months ago at the Mainland Baptist Church on Pitney Road, but that remains under investigation. “We have no reason to believe that they’re related,” Mott said.

Absecon police Lt. Christopher Weaver said he did not know about the break-in at the Methodist church until contacted by a reporter, because he had been on vacation when it occurred and also had no idea about the two Galloway incidents.

At the Church of St. Mark and All Saints, Bradley said, the perpetrators came in through a back window, which they pulled out, sometime during July 4th weekend. Once inside, they came into the church office and rifled through everything and left with an envelope containing a Staples store credit card and a sales tax exemption card. A few weeks later, Bradley said, workers found an empty money bag in the woods behind the church. But the church didn’t keep cash in it.

“They obviously were looking for money, because they took nothing else,” Bradley said. “The reality is all of our stuff of value, the silver, they’re all in the safe. You can’t find it.”

Parishioners were shocked at the crime, but one stepped up and offered to repair the window for free, Bradley said.

A few days later, at 5 a.m. on July 7, an Absecon police officer conducting a routine patrol found that someone had thrown a brick through the rear glass window at the Absecon United Methodist Church, Weaver said. Nothing was taken, and no other damage occurred, though the scene was processed for fingerprints, Weaver said.

However, the break-in still was unsettling to church officials and members, office manager Kathy Stadlmeir said. “You feel a sense of violation as if someone broke into your home.”

Stadlmeir said Absecon church officials soon learned about what happened at St. Marks, and then Sugden called to share what happened at Reformation Lutheran.

“It sounds like it’s the same people going around and doing that, to target churches like that,” Stadlmeir said. “It’s just a shame that people feel the need to do that.”

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Category: Church Security

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