Two Topeka United Methodist churches are surveying damage, estimating loss, and considering new security measures after each suffered several burglaries over the past few months.
Topeka First UMC suffered burglaries Dec. 2, 19 and 24, as well as Jan. 9.
“The pattern seems to be that people were sneaking in during large events and hiding,” the Rev. Jeff Clinger, senior pastor, said.
Most of the items taken from the church were electronics, including computers and televisions, said Tina Boles church business administrator. But other items were taken, ranging from a historic Bible to a tray of muffins for Sunday morning refreshments.
Boles said security is being tightened within the building, and plans were already underway to install additional exterior lighting, with motion sensors, security cameras and additional alarms installed.
“Right now, we’re doing lots of research,” she said.
Clinger and Boles said it sickened them that the church building could be violated.
“It feels gross,” Clinger said.
“You do look over your shoulder a little bit more. Being in the building alone wasn’t a big deal, and it’s not a huge deal now, but you’re a little more anxious,” Boles said. “I don’t think there’s anything you can do to stop that feeling. You’re just looking over your shoulder to make sure nobody else is following you.”
Topeka Highland Park UMC was hit by thieves twice in early January. Items taken included security cameras, TV monitors, audio-visual equipment, a technology control board and thousands of baby diapers. Church office equipment also was destroyed.
“A break-in is always a violation of your intimacy,” said the Rev. Javier Rios, Highland Park pastor. “We are trying to handle it. We move together, and we move forward. It will not stop us because we have a mission in our community. This is the message we are sending out.”
Al Cathcart, treasurer of the board of trustees, said the loss is about $60,000, with the church paying a $5,000 deductible.
He said police have a lead on a suspect after closed checks from the church accounts were attempted to be cashed at a Topeka bank.
Cathcart said the person or persons who entered the church knew that the overnight security system was on during a defined period of time and broke in before or after that time frame.
He said stricter security is being put into place in the southeast Topeka church.
“We’re having a new security system installed, and we’re going with a lock-down procedure and making all of the entities that use the church aware that the first in can unlock it for their group and the last out lock it,” he said.
The Rev. Hollie Tapley, disaster response coordinator for the Great Plains Conference, said she is available to work with churches and do a security walk-through to point out what each facility needs.
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