Martha Bowman Memorial United Methodist Church sustained major damage overnight after thieves broke into the administration building at the corner of Bass and Forsyth roads in north Bibb County.
"It looks like a war zone in here," said Barry Bissonette, chairman of the church board of trustees. "This should be a warning for other churches."
There was no sign of forced entry into the building so church leaders think someone might have slipped in with the cleaning crew Thursday night or hid inside during business hours until the staff left for the night, Bissonette said.
The culprits took a metal chair to bash their way through drywall to gain access to rooms. They tore through the ceiling tiles and beams to get access to the youth room that contained two plasma television screens that were not taken, he said.
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While church members take inventory, the Bibb County Sheriff's Office reported the initial list of stolen items included musical instruments that belonged to church members, laptop computers, computer monitors, jars of coins and two safes, which staff members said were either empty or contained nothing of monetary value.
The building sustained thousands of dollars in damage along with the somewhat odd pattern of thefts, he said.
The burglars also broke into the media director's office, crashing Tim Gamble's green lava lamp over onto the floor as they pushed the filing cabinet out of the way. They took a number of things including a tripod but left behind the expensive camera that was with it, said Gamble.
He determined the burglars took a monitor and broke off a knob from the sound board at the rear of the contemporary sanctuary where services are recorded for broadcast.
"This is nothing compared to my office," he said.
The safe was taken out of the finance director's office along with hundreds of dollars from the "change for Jesus" campaign that raises money to feed the hungry, church members said.
The destruction of the door frames also wiped out electricity at the light switches in parts of the building so workers were in the dark in some places as they investigated the damage. At one office they tore through the wooden cabinet that blocked their entry.
"It just hurts my heart," one lady said to another as they walked down the hall. Side by side with their arms wrapped around each others shoulders they walked over crumbled bits of white plaster and cardboard from the bashed out holes in the beige corridor.
Church member and CrimeStoppers board chairman Warren Selby sent a work crew from Warren Associates building contractors to begin the cleanup, Bissonette said. Women had already plugged in the vacuums where investigators were through gathering evidence.
Bibb County deputies are investigating the break-in and would like anyone with any information to call them. Someone may have seen a vehicle parked in the lot or some other activity that could lead them to those who ripped through walls and took congregation donations - money that was going to feed the poor and homeless.
This was the third incident at the church which had about $900 dollars worth of electronic games stolen from the children's room last week and a car broken into Wednesday night.
The historic sanctuary built in 1931 was not touched nor was the main sanctuary of the church aside from the damage Gamble pointed out in the media center at the back of the room, Bissonette said.
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