When the officer came to take the report, he told Nate Warren, “I’ve been doing this for 23 years and this is a first.”
What the officer was referring to was the theft of an aluminum cross from the front of Emmanuel Baptist Church, where Warren is pastor.
The theft occurred probably last Friday or Saturday, Warren figures. He first heard about it after church on Sunday, when a member of the congregation asked him, “’Is somebody in the church cleaning the cross?’ I said, ‘No, why?’ He said, ‘Well, it’s gone.’”
And so, after some checking around within the church to see whether someone had taken it down for some reason, Warren finally determined it was missing and called police to report it Tuesday afternoon.
An officer came by on Wednesday and he and Warren looked at the scene of the crime. Cobwebs had formed around the cross’s outline, and from that, they determined the cross – which Warren initially estimated was five to six feet tall – was actually much larger. It was probably 10 feet tall and five feet wide.
“The best we can think is it’s either a prank or they chopped it up and took it to Portland and sold it for scrap,” Warren said. So how does a church community react to being the victim of such a crime, and of such an important symbol?
First, with a touch of humor. “We want people to take the cross and find out the mystery of the cross, but not in this way,” Warren said.
He mused that it happened on a busy road, so it must’ve occurred in the middle of the night.
It was “pretty bold” Warren said, “so it was either somebody in heavy drug addiction and needed money” or a prankster. “That’s the crazy thing, because we do help people in the community from time to time — even outside the church. But they helped themselves.”
The thief or thieves left the wooden ladder they used to unbolt the cross from the brick wall.
Because they left the ladder there, he speculates it wasn’t their ladder. “They probably stole it from somebody’s house near here.”
The church left a note on the ladder saying, “We forgive you for taking our cross. We pray that you would know Jesus, the one who died on it, and rose again as payment for your sin. All you have to do is ask, have faith and believe.”
The church has a reader board, and it regularly posts inspiring messages on it. Warren added, “The ironic thing is the saying we have up right now is ‘People need love the most when they deserve it least.’ The cop said, “I’d leave that up for awhile.’”
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s not the end of the world,” Warren said of the theft. The church will eventually replace the cross, which Warren estimated cost $400 to $500.
This isn’t the church’s only brush with odd criminal behavior. About six weeks ago, “Someone pried open our church sign and put an inappropriate message in it.”
Warren was quick to get down to the church to remove the offensive posting.
Of the strange occurrences, Warren said, “Either you just really laugh about it or you shake your head. Or both.”