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Saturday, March 25, 2023

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Pioneer Baptist Church, CItrus Heights
Pioneer Baptist Church on Old Auburn Road in Citrus Heights has been hit with multiple vandalism attacks in recent weeks, the pastor says. // CH Sentinel

Pioneer Baptist Church on Old Auburn Road, a congregation located in the first church building ever built in the Citrus Heights area, has reported a rash of vandalism incidents in recent weeks.

Pastor Kyle Conley told The Sentinel the first incident occurred about five weeks ago, when someone fired a pellet gun or threw a handful of rocks into the stained glass windows of the sanctuary during a morning church service.

“When it hit, it sounded like the impact of bullets and glass shattering,” said the pastor, pointing to a taped up stained glass window with holes appearing to be from a pellet gun. In following weeks, the church’s front fence was smashed in by a vehicle, another window was vandalized, bags of dog poop and used hypodermic needles were thrown onto the church property, and a parishioner’s car window was smashed during a service — although nothing inside was taken.

“It’s like where’s all this coming from?” questioned the pastor, reflecting on the incidents. “I mean, good night, show some respect for the house of God, right?”

Additionally, the church reported that checks had been stolen from the property last month and fraudulently spent at locations, with amounts totaling over several thousand dollars.

Although he doesn’t believe all the incidents are related, Conley said it’s strange there have been no issues in his past seven years as pastor at the church, “and then all of the sudden in the last five weeks we have all these things happening.”

Citrus Heights Police Lt. Jason Russo said the church has submitted multiple online reports about the vandalism in recent weeks, resulting in the department responding with extra patrols and staff being notified of the trend.

Asked whether there have been any vandalism trends at other area churches in recent years, the lieutenant said he was not aware of any trends and described the recent reports as “unusual.” He said police have scheduled a meeting with church representatives to discuss the incident further and make crime prevention recommendations, which include installing security cameras.

Pastor Conley said police have been “very proactive” in responding to the crime reports and also said his church has taken several immediate steps to address security. He said church members have now formed a security team that patrols during services and cameras will soon be installed.

The church had previously discussed installing security cameras, but the idea was dropped due to it not being seen as an immediate need until now.

“I do believe the church is being targeted,” said the pastor, who believes the incidents are coming from an unknown individual who “has a beef with the church” for an unknown reason. He speculated possible reasons could be someone upset about church members parking along the street when the parking lot is full, or because his conservative congregation holds to beliefs that he said aren’t “culturally correct.”

“I believe that because we’re making a biblical stand, Satan is fighting against us,” said the pastor, describing his church of about 200 people as “old school,” with a choir, hymns, and “preaching from the King James Bible.”

“But I don’t want to always attribute everything to Satan; some people are just jerks,” he said with a bit of a smile, adding that “I guess it’s better they throw rocks at our church than at somebody else’s house or car.”

Asked what he’d like to see happen by filing police reports, Conley said he’s not seeking to have someone arrested for the incidents, but he’s hopeful the vandalism will stop and “that people will learn that it’s not okay to trash a church and that it’s something our community would frown upon.”

The site at 7600 Old Auburn Rd. was the location of the first church in Citrus Heights, according to a historical landmark sign on the property. The building was originally constructed in 1921 for a Quaker congregation and was called the “Friends Church.” It bore that name until being sold in 1975, when it became Pioneer Baptist Church.

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