Police are investigating burglaries at two Lawrence churches that netted thieves an estimated $11,000 in offerings.
"You don't expect these things to happen," said the Rev. Don Miller, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, 2104 W. 15th St.
Miller said that when he reported to work Oct. 14, he noticed the door to the church office was damaged. Inside, he discovered someone had broken into a locked file cabinet. Keys to the exterior doors of the church were missing.
But the most devastating loss, according to Miller, was an estimated $5,000 in offering money.
"It is kind of a sad commentary," Miller said. "We're trying to do good things in the community and in the world and carry out a mission for our Lord, and somebody feels compelled to take away those contributions from the members of the church and the mission that we're about."
On the other side of the Kansas University campus, at 1204 Oread Ave., the Rev. Thad Holcombe of Ecumenical Christian Ministries is dealing with the same problem.
Sometime overnight Oct. 15, someone broke into a safe, stealing an estimated $6,000 in church donations.
After the theft at Immanuel Lutheran, Miller immediately contacted members of his congregation to inform them of the loss. With numerous personal checks in the offering basket, he was afraid the suspect or suspects now had access to church members' personal information, as well as his own. He also had placed a check in the church's offering the previous Sunday.
"We immediately called them all and let them know. We told them there's a vulnerability for them," Miller said. "They may want to put a stop payment on their checks."
Miller said he believed churches might be more vulnerable because their doors were often open.
"A stranger walks in the door, we're going to welcome them in and see what we could do to help," he said.
In fact, staff at Immanuel Lutheran noticed a suspicious man in the building the day before the break-in there. Miller said the man had been wandering around the facility, but when questioned asked to speak to a pastor. The turn of events didn't seem unusual at the time, Miller said.
"We have an anticipation that someone came in and cased the facility," Miller said. "There was a stranger that came in late afternoon Monday. We didn't know who he was, and there was an uneasiness among some of the staff."
Miller wishes the suspect would have just asked for help.
"We'd be glad to share money with them if that's a need they have. That's what churches are about, you know, to help people," Miller said. "You shouldn't have to break in. If you have a need, come on up and we'll try to provide some help, and if we can't, we'll certainly find agencies that can."
In the wake of the burglaries, both churches said they'd tightened security.
And while church members pray the suspect is caught, Miller said his congregation had other prayers for the person who took their offering.
"We've prayed for the individual often times and said, 'Lord, touch their hearts and forgive them, and help them to come to be aware of your love and care for them.'"
Police said it was too early to comment on whether the burglaries could be related.