Pastor 'going through hell' as scrap metal thieves target church

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011

By Nathan Hardin
EAST SPENCER — The newly installed air conditioning units outside Guiding Light Missionary Baptist Church had been used less than 20 hours.
But the barbed wire, metal cages and locked electricity units didn’t stop thieves from gutting units the Rev. John Jones had just installed.
“We ain’t got nothing back here but weeds now,” Jones said.
Jones, pastor of United Baptist Church in Kannapolis, has been overseeing the construction of Guiding Light Missionary Baptist for the past seven years.
The 77-year-old Jones said the facility, which is on Boundary Street in East Spencer, will serve as a central point for six churches.
Jones said the facility will likely hold other community events, including birthday parties and a gathering point for local residents.
But Jones said he’s “been going through hell” to finish the building, fighting construction issues and — more recently — theft.
“I did all I could do to keep them from getting the units,” Jones said.
But on Oct. 12, thieves cracked into a metal grate on the building’s right side. They gutted four air conditioning units. Jones said the units were loaded into a vehicle on the right side of the property.
Two days later, they returned to steal an additional three units from the left side.
“We don’t have any units on the outside now at all.”
According to an East Spencer Police incident report, suspects also stood on a chair outside the building and destroyed wallboard along one of the entrances.
From there, the suspects entered the church and stole 14 large dish pans, hand tools and a 100-foot roll of cord.
Police estimated the damage in the report at more than $15,000.
East Spencer Police could not be reached for comment.
Rowan County Sheriff’s Office spokesman John Sifford said churches have seen an uptick in crime lately because of small periods of occupancy and unemployment rates.
“Unfortunately, with unemployment and economy as it is, some criminals are turning to churches,” Sifford said. “They are vulnerable in the fact that most of the time, they’re only occupied at certain times.”
Sifford said churches and communities can help authorities by keeping an eye out on church property and calling law enforcement if they see anything suspicious.
“I know we’ve had at least one church, in Gold Hill, where they took the air conditioning units,” Sifford said.
Sifford said increases in 911 call volume has also impacted officers’ ability to patrol areas that may need extra attention.
“Years ago, we really could ride around and check business and churches,” Sifford said. “Unfortunately the call volume now doesn’t allow that like it once did.”