Pastor Paul Bates knew something was amiss as soon as he walked into the Church at Dahlonega Tuesday afternoon.
A support belt used for heavy lifting was on a counter, a glove was on the floor and a ladder was in the sanctuary. A $500 flatscreen television was leaning against a wall.
It didn’t take long for Bates to realize his church had been burglarized, and that he probably interrupted the burglars when he came by about 1:30 p.m. to turn on the air conditioning.
“I think I walked in on them, because there was still a $3,500 keyboard left in the back door,” Bates said.
The losses were still substantial: the burglars took at least $30,000 worth of audio-visual electronics, including a pair of digital projectors worth $5,000 each and a mixing board for the sanctuary’s sound system. They opened the unlocked double-wide chain link gates at the playground in the back of the church and backed a truck up to the back door, which looked to be pried open.
“It was kind of unusual,” said Lumpkin County Sheriff’s spokesman Darren Martin. “They took their sweet time in there and were very thorough — it wasn’t a quick smash and grab.”
Bates said he feels the crooks had to have cased his church, probably by attending a service. Located next to the Pizza Hut on Ga. 60, the refurbished building had once been a steakhouse and does not outwardly appear to be a place that would have a lot of high-end electronics, he said.
“There’s 180 churches in Lumpkin County,” Bates said. “Someone knew what we had in here. And they knew we didn’t have a full-time staff.”
The Church at Dahlonega has a congregation of about 220, with regular attendance of about 140. A part of the Southern Baptist Convention, the church been in Dahlonega for five years, but moved into the remodeled restaurant just over a year ago.
Places of worship can be more vulnerable to burglaries than commercial or residential buildings, said Brian Gallagher, who runs the website “Security At Church.”
“A church is a little different because it’s viewed as an easier target,” he said. “The majority of churches don’t have alarm systems.
Churches as a whole are a decade behind the curve from other industries in seeing the need for security.”
Last year a Gainesville man, Jeremy Brantley, pleaded guilty to burglarizing several Hall County churches, some which he visited earlier under the guise of seeking help. The crimes prompted some local church leaders to have alarm systems installed.
Bates said the burglary was further evidence that “we’re living in desperate times.”
“To me, it would be hard to stand before the Lord and say, ‘I stole right out of your building.’ I feel bad that someone gets to a place in life where they want to steal from God.”
Bates said insurance can cover the losses, and he’s thankful that the thieves were at least meticulous in unhooking the cables to the equipment, instead of doing further damage by cutting or ripping.
“Part of me wants to question someone — ‘Why would you do this?,’ ” the pastor said. “But I’m in the business of trying to restore people, so it doesn’t help to hold grudges.”
Anyone with information about the burglary at the Church at Dahlonega is asked to call the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office at (706) 864-0412 or e-mail email@example.com.