Sixth break-in forces church to rethink policy

Open doors closed

Posted: Thursday, April 06, 2000

After five break-ins this year, Nikiski's North Star United Methodist Church decided a week ago to change its open-door policy by locking the church's doors at night.

But a locked door proved a weak defense. Saturday night, the church was hit again.

"It was pretty obvious right away," said Pastor John Henry.

He and his wife arrived at the church around 8:30 a.m. Sunday to prepare for Sunday school. They discovered doors had been removed, either by dismantling the hinges or by kicking the doors in.

"One of the heartbreaking things is the malicious vandalism done in the lower Sunday school unit," said Henry, who has been pastor of the church for almost two years.

According to an Alaska State Troopers press release, initial estimate for the cost of repairing the church is $5,000. Part of that cost came from a freezer full of food that was destroyed.

"We have a pantry where we give out food to people," said Henry. "The door on the freezer was left open. It ruined the frozen food."

Sunday morning, churchgoers showed the effects of the continued break-ins.

"The congregation acted like they had been assaulted," said Henry. "It's like they had been misused and abused. They looked beaten and afraid and angry, and they're just very upset."

Henry said the church's mission statement reflects the congregation's deep concern to be a church of the community. As a result, the doors had previously been unlocked.

"(There was) evidence sometimes that someone had been in the building. Maybe even slept there," said Henry. "We used to have food in a shopping cart in front and occasionally found evidence that someone had taken food and cooked it in the (church's) microwave. But that wasn't a problem."

As a result of the six break-ins, the church has lost telephones, answering machines, radios and other electronic items.

"Our insurance is pretty high," the pastor said. "It's a deductible amount per event. Overall, it's starting to take its toll."

The church may be locking its doors at night, but its community spirit remains strong.

"We're not going to stop loving the community," said Henry. "And we're not going to let these people drive us out of the ministry."

However, that doesn't mean ignoring what has happened.

"There have to be people who know who's doing this," Henry said. "It just has to be stopped."

An investigation by troopers is continuing.

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