Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 52 year old Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 150 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Thursday, November 06, 2008

More news on Church thefts.

From yesterday's Detroit News.

Thieves prey on houses of prayer
Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News
Many of the devout in Metro Detroit know the Bible says Jesus Christ both condemned and forgave thieves. But some of those who attend churches targeted by burglars recently say they are busier with the condemnation part.
And before they move on fully to the forgiving, they are organizing community watches near their churches, asking for the police to become more involved, dipping even more deeply in their pockets and offering their expertise to help secure their houses of worship.
"A lot of people felt they were violated, and I heard a lot of them say that they just could not believe that someone would stoop so low to steal from a church," said the Rev. George Williams, of St. John Neumann, a Catholic parish in Canton Township. "I mean, all we do is help people."
Thieves pilfered computer equipment and about $4,000 from the Sunday collections at St. John Neumann. The incidents are among 19 burglaries at churches in Metro Detroit reported in the media since 2006, including a fourth burglary this year at the Faith Reconciliation Tabernacle Center on Meyers in Detroit, on Sunday. Clergy and the faithful say they have begun considering sleeping in their churches or conducting nighttime services to ward off burglars -- and that it seems to matter little to the thieves whether the church is an abandoned neighborhood in Detroit or near bustling subdivisions in Canton or Clinton Township.
Some people have had enough. They are getting out of their houses, watching church properties and demanding that police and government officials engage the problem.
Like much in life, the faithful say, it is a story of redemption, of creating good from evil.
"People were really upset when they stole Jesus," said MaryAnn Herold, who attends the Church of the Messiah, in Detroit. "But I feel like it has brought people closer in the neighborhood, again."
After a burglary at the Episcopal church, when thieves removed copper pipes and left significant water damage, burglars returned in June for other items of value and a green statue of Jesus Christ. The "Green Jesus," as it has become known in the neighborhood near Belle Isle, was recovered in an alley. And the condemnation quickly yielded to action.
The Rev. Barry Randolph, the pastor at the Church of the Messiah, Herold and others organized Citizens United for Safety (CUFS), which includes six churches on the East Side and in Harper Woods. Residents Downriver have expressed an interest in starting a chapter.
"Local government, law enforcement, churches, business leaders and average citizens have come together to combat the problems at the churches and in the neighborhoods," Randolph said, as he prepared for a visit by Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr. and Detroit police officials at the church on Tuesday. "We just decided to be proactive and not sit back and wait for what was going to happen."
"It's giving people in the neighborhood more hope," Herold said. "We were just feeling deserted by the police, but not so much, anymore. They are doing a lot to help us now."
The Rev. Williams said in Canton, after word spread about the theft, parishioners responded immediately -- even if it was as simple as remembering to lock doors and activate the alarm system.
"I was amazed at how many people connected to the church have a security business," Williams said. "I got a lot of phone calls!"
The irony of burglaries in churches has been long noted, and social scientists say it is unclear whether there has actually been an increase in the activity.
"I think these incidents are simply a reflection of the condition of the surrounding areas," said Irshad Altheimer, a professor of criminal justice at Wayne State University. "If the rest of the community is failing, in some way, the problem is going to spill over to an institution like a school -- in the case of school violence -- or a church."
At St. Ambrose, in Grosse Pointe Park, 80-year-old, handcrafted lanterns were removed from the outside walls. After checking local scrap yards to no avail, police began to wonder if another motive is at play.
"There is some possibility that it was a collector who may have taken them for the purpose of putting them on display at their own home, or to sell," said Lt. James Smith, of the Grosse Pointe Park police.
At Most Holy Trinity, in Detroit, the suspicion is that the perpetrators are a gang of drug addicts employed by a supervising criminal who operates in the neighborhood.
"The guy who fences this stuff for the street people, the media publicity put so much pressure on him and he became so alarmed that he came right to the office offering to sell some of the stuff back to me," said the pastor, Rev. Russell Kohler said.
Kohler said he reported the development to the police. But he said they did not arrest the man.
Matt Baka, who is among those trying to preserve St. Albertus in a partially abandoned neighborhood on the East Side, says police told him thieves simply walk to a scrap yard down the street and sell the rain spouts and copper roofing from the church.
Detroit police said that while they have made an arrest in a theft at St. Albertus, they are still investigating the incidents at Most Holy Trinity. As for the purported "fence" near St. Albertus, no arrests have been made, they said.
"I personally think it is an organized thing," said Deputy Ron Willette, of the St. Clair Shores Police Department, who attends Most Holy Trinity, and stopped by one day last week to talk with Kohler about the burglaries. "It's pretty mind-boggling that someone would want to come in here and desecrate a church and steal from it."