Bishop Keith Ackerman couldn't believe it when the security alarm at his church went off early Monday morning. It was the second time in three days.
By the time he and police reached St. Timothy Church in southeast Fort Worth, the thief was already gone.
And so were two sacred, irreplaceable candlesticks that depicted Jesus, Mary and the disciples, along with silver platters and vessels used to store incense.
More might be missing, but church officials and volunteers are still doing an inventory — and boarding up shattered glass windows to try to prevent another burglary at the church.
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"We need security cameras, iron gates, lights that shine on all areas, but where are we going to get the money?" Ackerman asked. "In the end, I realize what they stole was just stuff — but it's holy stuff.
"I'm in charge of that, but I'm more in charge of souls."
In the six years Ackerman has been guiding the church, there have been at least a dozen break-ins — at least six in the past 13 months.
Saturday, someone kicked in a glass window and broke into the church, which is at 4201 Mitchell Blvd., taking a gold-plated chalice, cleaning supplies, two vacuum cleaners and more.
Ackerman said the same person may have come back Monday morning, kicking in a second glass window and rummaging through some of the same spots that were ransacked Saturday.
Cabinet doors were open and items inside were askew. Some items, such as a candelabra, were damaged.
The two gold-plated brass candlesticks taken were from a set of six ornate, carved candlesticks. Silver platters were taken at some point.
Monday's total loss and damages appeared to be around $4,000. Saturday's tally was around $3,000.
Ackerman said he won't put in insurance claims for either incident, because the church's deductible is so high it wouldn't cover the costs.
And although he said he would love to have security cameras, that's just on his wish list for now.
"We can't afford it," he said. "I have to choose between feeding hungry people or buying security cameras."
Through the years, thieves have stolen more than candlesticks and chalices. They've ripped out copper wiring and stolen so much from the church's air-conditioning system that volunteers eventually built a cage around the AC unit.
Ackerman said he doesn't want to have a fundraiser because he realizes that other churches may have equal or greater needs.
But, "if the Lord put it on the hearts of people to help here, I would be touched beyond measure," Ackerman said.
Monday, he and a handful of members from the congregation of 100 screwed full sheets of plywood over large glass windows, hoping to deter the criminals.
Angel Lerma and Eddie Holmes were among those helping put up plywood.
"Sad is what it is," Lerma said, shaking his head. "Breaking into a church."
Holmes agreed, adding, "It's kind of disappointing that people will go to this extreme, breaking into churches."
Ackerman is worried that a glass door installed to make it easier for physically challenged parishioners to make it inside could be the next target.
He said he's still stunned that thieves keep coming back.
"It is, in fact, what happens with desperate people ... and a culture that doesn't have respect for faith," he said. "But we are here to embrace the broken. And whoever did this was broken."
The saddest part, he said, is that he would have given someone what they needed — whether food or copper wiring or cleaning supplies — if they had just asked.
"Don't break in the windows," he said. "Come in the door. I'll feed you."
Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley