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Burglars hit two Bayside churches

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The operators of two Lutheran churches in Bayside and another in Flushing said they have been forced to undertake expensive security measures after the sites were broken into and robbed earlier this month.

Warren Castellani, administrator of Flushing's St. John's Lutheran Church, located at 147-46 Sanford Ave. in Flushing, said the house of worship; its sister church, Redeemer Lutheran Church of Bayside; and a universal pre-K through eighth-grade school attached to the Bayside church, located at 36-01 Bell Blvd., all had break-ins on three separate incidents earlier this month.

He said the thieves stole thousands of dollars worth of communion ware, stamps and cash as well as damaging church property during the incidents.

"We haven't been robbed since I've been here, which is 12 years," Castellani said. "This is a shame. People are usually extremely respectful of church property. You could leave $50 on a pew and come back a week later and it would still be there."

Bayside's Chapel of the Redeemer Lutheran Church, located at 220-16 Union Turnpike, was also robbed earlier this month. Representatives for the church could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for Bayside's 111th Precinct said the robberies were still under investigation. But he said the incidents were unrelated and not part of a pattern.

Castellani said the thieves first broke into a school shared between St. John's and Redeemer Lutheran Church of Bayside Sept. 3, stealing stamps and money but leaving behind digital cameras.

He said they broke into the school a second time Sept. 11, breaking the site's rolling gate by prying it open with a crowbar as well as damaging a metal door. He said the robbers were responsible for more than $3,000 in damage.

The thieves then broke into St. John's on the morning of Sept. 14, he said.

The intruders opened the church's safe without breaking it and took a gold communion ware set that included a chalice, paten and plate worth more than $5,000, Castellani said. He said the thieves broke into the church again later that day and set the remaining piece of communion ware on top of the safe, but did not steal anything.

"We want to secure our church and get back our communion ware," he said. "It has a lot of history and value to our congregation. It can be replaced, but has sentimental value."

Castellani said the communion ware had been donated to the church by former members, several of whom are now dead. He said the church has placed new security lights and bars on the windows at the church.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said thieves had also stolen a variety of artifacts from Chapel of the Redeemer Lutheran Church earlier this month.

"It could all be a coincidence, but three Lutheran churches have been broken into during a relatively short period of time," he said.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 6:40 pm, October 10, 2011
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