By Paula Schlueter Ross
With more than a dozen robberies and incidents of vandalism in the past year — resulting in the loss of computer equipment, gift cards, musical instruments, copper wiring and food-bank items — St. Johns Lutheran Church in St. Louis is looking to make a fresh start in 2013.
The return of the congregation’s 135-year-old German Bible that was stolen in the last break-in on Dec. 21 (click here to read related story) is perhaps symbolic of the “new and exciting things” that lay ahead, notes St. Johns Pastor Rev. Michael Tanney.
For example, an anonymous donor who heard about the theft of the antique Bible has given the church $5,000 to install a security system, which Tanney hopes can be completed in the coming weeks.
And, St. Johns is in the process of signing a partnership agreement with a local charter school that plans to refurbish and reopen two school buildings on the property that have been closed for two years.
“It’s a brand-new year and a lot of new and exciting things are going to happen with our church,” Tanney told Reporter. “And having [God's] Word as the center part of it is definitely going to be a priority.”
The Bible was returned to the church days after the theft. A St. Louis bookstore owner paid the robbery suspect — a young man in his 20s who police believe may be responsible for a half-dozen break-ins at the church — $30 for it. The bookstore owner called police after he saw a news story and realized the Bible was stolen.
Tanney said he expects about 130 students to attend the new elementary school when it opens this fall. The school’s owners have asked St. Johns to operate a Christian preschool, and the pastor said he is looking forward to teaching the children prayers and Bible stories, and serving as a “bridge to the church.”
Also exciting, he added, is the potential for the congregation to reach more minority families with the Gospel. The St. Johns neighborhood is “very diverse,” he said, with Bosnian, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Nepalese, African and other nonwhite residents, and many of them are expected to attend the new school.
The congregation already offers English classes and operates a food bank that serves some 60 to 70 families a week. Right now about 20 of its 90 regular worshipers are from other countries, but the pastor expects that number to grow as a result of the new school.
Tanney said he would like to meet the young man who was arrested for stealing the church’s Bible, to “see what his life is like” and possibly offer him a helping hand.
“But also, to give him a chance to repent so we can offer him forgiveness,” he said.
The pastor said he is planning a Sunday sermon around the returned Bible to remind worshippers “how important the Word of God is.”
Not the book itself, he explained, but rather “the treasure of the Word of God, and how important it is to be continually preached and taught.”
He also wants to encourage people not to think of God’s Word “as a relic, but as something that can change people’s hearts.” Even the heart, he added, of the young man who is accused of the theft.
Posted Jan. 15, 2013