Vandals make more than $50,000 damage at Lincoln First

David Burke


Two youths who apparently snuck into Lincoln First United Methodist Church during Ash Wednesday services caused more than $50,000 in damage from vandalism that was discovered the next morning.

These screen grabs from KLKN-TV show damage done to Lincoln First UMC after Ash Wednesday services.
According to Lincoln police, most of the damage took place in the church’s sanctuary, including discharging a fire extinguisher, and breaking a glass chandelier, flat-screen television, a wooden pedestal, remote control and microphone, as well as shredding a Bible and causing $11,000 damage to two stained glass windows.

The Rev. Kirstie Engel, the church’s pastor, said she and the trustees decided to cancel Sunday services on Feb. 26 as a safety precaution.

“Our biggest challenge was with the fire extinguisher chemicals all over,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we could keep chemicals out of the space.”

Church services are still planned for March 5, she said, providing the sanctuary is determined to be safe.

Engel said the church’s security cameras showed two youths, a male and female she estimated as being in the ninth or 10th grade, running through the church.

“It wasn’t like a break-in, per se, since they came in when the building was open. The main person didn’t make his presence known to us,” she said. “It’s a large church, and you could see he was seconds behind us.”

An ice storm on Ash Wednesday limited the adult attendance, and no youth or children were in the building, Engel added.

John Helter, chairman of the Lincoln First board of trustees, said security measures, including motion detectors and alarms, would be increased immediately.
Rev. Kirstie Engel said the $50,000 damage to the church includes broken stained glass, valued at $11,000.
“We’re looking into more of a secure facility, more of a lockdown facility when people are there,” he said. “It’s very shocking to see someone do this to our church. I can’t believe someone would come into a church and do this.”

Engel said the church is working with police to try and find the vandals, but she hopes it wouldn’t result in an arrest.

“We’re hoping to have some sort of pathway to redemption and rehabilitation and accountability, and not really seeking to press charges,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out how to make connections with these youth once they’re identified and work with their families. It’d be nice to turn this thing around.”

Engel said she was in the midst of a sermon series on non-violence as a way to make change and solve problems.

Six days after discovering the vandalism, Engel said new damage was still being discovered, including cracks to columns in the sanctuary. According to its website, Lincoln First was built and dedicated in 1909.

Engel said there were already discussions about increasing security in the building before the vandalism and that safety was a major topic since a fifth-grader at a nearby elementary was caught with a gun in the school.

“We were blessed, they could have had weapons,” she said. “It was very vulnerable, we were sitting ducks and didn’t even know it.”

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at

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