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Church seriously damaged in vandalism

Just five days before Christmas, a burglar broke into Emmanuel Baptist Church on Four Mile Drive and ransacked the sanctuary by upsetting pews, knocking holes in the walls, cutting up sections of the carpet and breaking several windows.

The suspected burglar then got undressed, leaving his clothes at the back of the sanctuary and walking out on to Four Mile Drive, where he was confronted by state troopers who were called about 6:50 a.m. Saturday to investigate a report of man walking naked in the middle of the street near Northway Road, Cpl. Matthew Brown, a patrol division supervisor, said.

“He fought with three or four of our troopers for several minutes before we could get him restrained,” Brown said.

Investigators believe Steve Smith-Williams, 32, of 1724 Four Mile Drive, was “on spice or under the influence of other controlled substances,” Brown said. He was taken into custody about 100 yards from the church.

He had some kind of device in his hand, but at first troopers had no idea what it was or where it came from, Brown said.

Smith-Williams was taken to the Williamsport Regional Medical to be evaluated. While he was at the hospital, police received a call about the break-in and vandalism at the church. It turned out that what Smith-Williams had in his possession was a condenser from the church’s air conditioning system, police said.

While he has not been officially charged with the break-in, Smith-Williams will likely be arraigned for the burglary later this week, Brown confirmed.

Smith-Williams was arraigned before District Judge Jon E. Kemp on charges of aggravated assault, open lewdness, resisting arrest and related offenses. He was committed to the Lycoming County Prison in lieu of $100,000 bail and well as a probation violation.

The Rev. David Bixler, Emmanuel’s senior pastor, said “this is tens of thousands of dollars damage,” as he showed a news reporter the destruction that forced the Loyalsock Township congregation, at 1730 Four Mile, to hold Sunday morning services in their gym located in a building next to the church.

“It was kind of a blow,” Bixler said, reflecting on his reaction to seeing the damage for the first time.

“You wonder what would cause someone to do something like this to a church,” Eric Ranck, church treasurer, said.

“Our PA (public address) system was annihilated,” Bixler said. Many parts of the system were strewn across the floor of the church nave.

An assistant pastor’s office at the back of the sanctuary was ransacked.

“Clothing was discovered at the back of the sanctuary; blue jeans, a shirt, a pair of sneakers and underwear,” Bixler said, adding that the items were turned over to investigators.

“Many of our pews had chunks knocked off of them from falling (being toppled),” Bixler said. “Every kind of thing you can imagine, he did.”

Church members discovered the vandalism about 8:30 a.m. Saturday and immediately notified police.

“My honest opinion, when I heard about the gentleman and the state of mind he was in, I thought of the maniac of Gadara, and wondered if he was possessed. The maniac of Gadara was a man who was uncontrollable, could not be held down and ravaged towns and everything else until he met Jesus,” Ranck said.

“It’s really sad that someone would do this,” he added.

Pages upon pages were torn out of the church’s songbooks and left covering much of the floor.

Bixler said the burglar “had two knives and ripped sections of the carpet and chiseled some stuff in our pews.”

At the back of the sanctuary, an attached podium, along with a religious tract rack as well as a large missionary board, had all been ripped apart.

The board had all the continents with photos pinned on the board. The photos were of the 40-plus foreign missionaries that the church supports throughout the world.

“We kept the missionaries’ pictures on the board and that was destroyed. A table that had missionary prayer cards on it was overturned,” Bixler said.

Bixler said that his reaction when he first saw the damage was one of amazement. “I also have to admit some anger,” he said.

Representative from the church’s insurance company were expected to visit the building today.

After the anger came forgiveness, Bixler said.

When the church choir met Saturday afternoon to rehearse their Christmas cantata production, Bixler met with them for a few minutes before the practice got underway.

“I said to them ‘This man is in jail. We’re going to pray for him.’ “ Bixler said.

“At our church service this morning, I prayed for him before our whole congregation. I prayed that he would somehow get the peace of God in his heart. Despite what he (allegedly) did, it is our hope that he would find the Savior through all this and hopefully enjoy the peace that the Lord Jesus brings,” Bixler said.

“He needs help, and we know that our help is through Jesus Christ and not in drugs and all the chaotic life that he had been living.” the pastor said.

The church’s ministry will continue, he said. The Sunday night cantata was held not in the sanctuary, but in the church gym.

“I don’t believe we’ll be able to have services again in the sanctuary for several weeks,” Bixler said.

He has been overjoyed by the outpouring of support his church has received since Saturday’s vandalism.

“I have already received calls or texts from at least three clergy of different denominations who have offered ‘Whatever you need done to help put things back, we’ll be glad to do it.’ “ he said.

“It’s awesome. I have really been touched by the support,” he added.

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