£300 rward after thieves target Nelson church during service

Fr Brian Murphy Pastoral Assistant Anne Bardell at Christchurch where thieves stole sacred items.
Fr Brian Murphy Pastoral Assistant Anne Bardell at Christchurch where thieves stole sacred items.

A NELSON church in the heart of the town’s community has been left “devastated” after being targeted by thieves during a Sunday morning service.

The Catholic Parish of St John Southworth who worship at Christ Church, Carr Road, has been left distressed following the theft of the Tabernacle containing the sacred Eucharist from their prayer room. The Tabernacle - which is the safe containing silver vessels holding the consecrated wine and host - Jesus’ body and blood, was ripped off a shelf as the service was under way.

They are offering a £300 reward for information which will lead to the recovery of the contents.

Fr Brian Murphy of St John Southworth said: “The actual vessels contained within the Tabernacle are not of great value, but the Eucharist itself is of priceless value to Catholics and the community is greatly distressed by this. The Tabernacle is very much the centre of our church and at the heart of our faith.”

The same weekend saw an attempted burglary at Colne’s New Life Centre in West Street between 3 p.m. on Sunday and 9 a.m. on Monday but thieves were unable to get in. Police said the would-be thieves scaled a wall into the church’s grounds and forced a plastic window cover off before smashing the window with a stone. Another plastic cover prevented them for gaining entry but caused £150 worth of damage.

The parish of St John Southworth’s sees around 100 members attend Christ Church which also shares the venue with the Methodist Church. The items are believed to have been taken between 11 a.m. and noon on Sunday during the Methodist’s morning service which follows the Catholic Mass.

Members of the Catholic congregation noticed the items had been taken when attending a Eucharist Service on Monday and reported it to police.

Fr Murphy added: “It is really devastating for not only the Catholics but the whole community and the more people who know about it the more shock there is. The congregation feel very upset as it is just so offensive to our religious beliefs. Nobody could take anything worse, it is priceless to us. The vessels can be replaced but the its the contents that were contained that are of significance.”

The prayer room is a quiet room where people can pop in and pray before or after services and has been a great comfort to people.

“So many churches are closed because of acts of vandalism but because this is a real community hub and because there are so many people here we thought it would be safe,” Fr Murphy added.

“We have reported it to the Salford Catholic Diocese but a lot will now depend on what the diocese advises. There will have to be a church investigation, it could even go to Rome as something like this is taken very seriously. We have heard of things like this happening before but thankfully it is very rare.”

Anne Bardell of the pastoral team said: “We are just praying we get it back. Somebody must have been watching and must have known it was there. They have given it a terrible whack to remove it.”

PC Katrina Scott of Nelson Police said: “Its immoral that the church has been targeted in this way. The church is there to support and unite its community and give support to those less needy through charitable acts.

“It’s sickening to think that someone has taken advantage of the church’s good will. The items that have been taken are of immense sentimental value to the church and all its parishioners and need to be returned to the church.”

There were thought to be around 70 people at the Sunday service, if anyone has any information on the crime please contact the police on 101 or the independent and anonymous charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.