NEW: Boynton church concerned about recent break-ins, vandalism

The pastor of a local church  is working to restore a sense of safety to parishioners after it was broken into twice since January and had graffiti sprayed on a brick wall outside.

“We want our folks to feel comfortable when they’re here,” Pastor Wendy Woodruff said. “We want them to know this is a place of refuge, a place of sanctuary, that they don’t have to fear being here.”

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Woodruff said she doesn’t think these are hate crimes, but she can’t say for sure. Church of our Savior is a Metropolitan Community Church that has congregations in 33 countries and another near Palm Beach Gardens. The churches are dedicated to serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, while welcoming all walks of life.

“We have older LGBT folk who are very aware of hate crime,” Woodruff said. “ They’ve lived through a lot of that stuff and this brings up a whole lot of issues for them and perhaps a little bit of fear that things are reverting.”

Woodruff met with police Thursday to walk the property on South Federal Highway south of Woolbright Road and evaluate safety. She’s also working with the community to find local businesses or organizations who might be having similar problems with crime.

Church of our Savior started in Boca Raton and then bought the Boynton property — a former Pizza Hut — in 1997. The church’s members and friends pitched in to turn the building into a church, which has about 50 members. The church offers several outreach programs including meal programs for the homeless, recovery meetings and holiday drives.

The good news is so far the crimes that have happened at the church have happened when no one was there.

A 3 a.m. January break-in triggered an alarm when someone broke through a stained-glass window. Nothing was taken and police found blood at the scene.

The next burglary was 1:30 a.m., May 4. The person likely came in the same way, through the Plexiglas window where the stained-glass one was. The music holder on top of the piano was damaged, according to that police report.

Also, someone painted a vulgar word on the church’s brick wall. And members heard about a mugging that happened in the parking lot in April, Woodruff said.

The destroyed stained-glass window is being remade by the same local artist who created the original. But it’s not just of monetary value, it also has a sentimental value. Each of the 14 stained-glass windows were donated in memory of church members who died.

“That made it a real hard thing to accept when you see people going around and breaking windows for the sake of breaking windows,” said Louis Hemmerich, clerk of the church’s board.

This particular one is called The Nativity and was destroyed before this several years ago. The new window should be done by the end of this month.

“I don’t want to sound like we’re just defensive. We believe firmly that we are all created in the image of God and that our call is to reach out to other people,” Woodruff said. “I read a book somewhere that says you’re supposed to love one another. You might have read it too.

“In all of this what we’re concerned about is yes, making people feel safe and comfortable but also what we can do to reach out to the community to be helpful, to be loving, to be caring, understanding of course that love doesn’t always mean you should let people walk all over you.”

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