Church marquees have a certain rhythm: An inspirational or uplifting message, a reference to scripture, a call to action.
The sign outside Campbell AME on Park Avenue in Woodbury, though, is just four words:
“Will you rob God?”
It isn’t a coincidence.
The church has been slammed in recent weeks by thieves who broke into the parsonage next door to the church itself, ripping out copper pipes and stealing almost every piece of metal they could get their hands on.
“Whatever they could steal, they stole—right out to the street,” Rev. Tynisha Drennon said.
She’s not exaggerating—thieves tore out the main water line into the house after wrecking the refrigerator and hot water heater in search of metal, flooding the basement with 6 feet of water.
Upstairs in the bathroom, the sink sits in the tub, a few inches of chopped pipe still attached to its base. Just on the other side of the room, a few pieces of flexible pipe jut up from the floor.
Evidence of the damage is everywhere, and workers are already in the home to get it ready for the next set of tenants, but the cleanup costs are in the thousands without even addressing the damage, and worse, they may have to delay renting out the home, which serves as a major source of income for the church.
The proceeds go toward funding Drennon’s housing allowance, but between repairs and the insurance deductible—with two separate incidents, the church is getting hit with $1,000 in deductible costs—things will be a lot tighter.
“It’s never a convenient time to have a loss,” Drennon said. “The church was already struggling.”
Worse yet, insurance may not cover all the damage. While Drennon said the damage inside the home—the ripped-out plumbing, destroyed fridge and wrecked water heater—should be OK, the water line out to the street might fall squarely on the church’s shoulders, adding to the burden.
All this for what Drennon said she was told was probably 10¢ on the dollar for the scrap metal thieves.
“I know that we are living in desperate times,” said Drennon. Still, what would motivate a thief to steal from church property is beyond her.
Thieves have hit properties in the area repeatedly in the past few months—Greenfields Veterinary Associates had their roof HVAC system hit last month, Automatic Plating on Jessup Road had pipes cut from a fuel storage tank in May, and in late May.
Deptford police also reported an incident where thieves ripped out the guts of an HVAC system atop the roof of a strip mall along Clements Bridge Road just this past weekend.
For Drennon’s 30-member congregation, many of whom are lifelong members of the church in their 70s, the thefts have been a shock.
“They remember a time when no one would dare steal from a church property,” Drennon said. “They’re devastated and outraged.”
Not to mention worried about their own properties, since most are residents of the neighborhoods around Campbell AME, and even more worried the thieves might go after the church itself.
“If we lose our place of worship, that would be the most detrimental thing,” Drennon said.
But the congregation is trying to recoup from the loss, both spiritually and financially—they’re holding a car wash in combination with a fish fry and chicken dinner this Saturday, in the hopes of bringing in $1,000 to cover their insurance costs.