On Saturday morning, the Episcopal Church of Saint Paul and Saint James on Chapel Street found its 19th-century stained glass windows shattered, a bible torn, a wooden cross damaged, and the box that holds consecrated wine opened.
When Priest Alex Dyer and two police officers arrived at the church after its alarm was tripped at 4 a.m., the perpetrator was nowhere to be found. The only item stolen was a wooden cross, while the vandalized parts of the church were all religious items.
“Based on the items that were damaged, I would speculate that it was someone with church background,” Dyer said.
For now, the parish remains puzzled by the vandal’s motivations and is particularly concerned that someone would target a place of worship. Dyer said he suspected that the perpetrator was “angry at the Church, God or at life.”
In addition, the nature of the crime has startled nearby residents and business owners in the Wooster Square neighborhood. The criminal has yet to be identified, and in recent years, house break-ins and robberies have occurred with heightened frequency, said Mike Daniele, owner of the Lincoln Flower Shop located blocks away from the church.
Lucy LaRocca, associate rector of Trinity Church, another Episcopal Church in New Haven, recalled that a nearby mosque and synagogue had been vandalized as well.
“It makes me wonder what kind of world we are living in,” Daniele said, adding that break-ins have become a reality not only for businesses, but for religious areas too.
But for the community members who had heard of the vandalism at the Episcopal Church of Saint Paul and Saint James, it came as a relief that none of the institution’s valuables had been damaged or stolen. This has led some parish members to conclude that the crime was simply a prank. Saint Paul and Saint James has since planned to upgrade its security system to prevent a recurrence.
LaRocca said she first hear about the break-in Saturday afternoon through a post on Dyer’s Facebook. She said the thousands of dollars in repair costs the congregation may face are particularly unfortunate as the parish has worked hard to revitalize and renovate parts of its facilities in recent years.
As a downtown parish, Dyer said his church may face a higher risk of robbery. Still, Dyer said, there is no place the church would rather be located.
He said he is not sure if the church will press charges, because the vestry, a group of elected representatives of the church, will make the decision collectively.
In his sermon the day after the incident, Dyer asked churchgoers to pray for the intruder. The congregation’s response was better than he imagined, he said.
“Times of crisis can bring a community together,” Dyer said.