The pastor and parishioners of Dixie Hills First Baptist Church in southwest Atlanta are hot under the collar—literally—because of a brazen theft. Someone recently stole a five-ton air conditioning unit from a locked metal cage on the church grounds.
The culprits have “no decency or respect for the house of God,” said Rev. Michael Sutton. “Any time you can steal from God, you’re a bold creature.” Replacing the unit, which cools the worship area, will cost about $10,000. “Who would do this to a church?” Sutton asked. “Who would do this?”
During these dog days of summer, the pastor said he’s especially concerned for the comfort and safety of elderly worshipers. Fans placed in the sanctuary “will not suffice,” he said. Like much of the United States, Atlanta has been sweltering under high temperatures, with the heat index often reaching triple digits.
Rev. Michael Sutton: ‘Thieves Don’t Stop Because We’re a Church’
After cutting through padlocks and protective caging, thieves snipped the AC’s copper wiring and hauled away the unit. They also snipped wires for two even bigger units, but ran off before stealing those. “They were trying to hurt us,” Pastor Sutton said of the thieves. “And I guess they saw an opportunity for more money.”
Although Sutton has made a plea for the return of church property, he said he realizes that’s unlikely. “Thieves don’t stop because we’re a church,” he said.
Sutton is warning other local pastors to lock everything down and to turn on security cameras “because the bandits are back.” Dixie Hills doesn’t have surveillance cameras, and no one had reported any suspicious activity.
If the criminals are caught, they could face additional federal penalties for violating the Clean Air Act. The EPA hands out steep fines for cutting refrigerant lines that release ozone-depleting chemicals.
The demand for copper leads to brazen thefts of AC units of all sizes, say experts. In addition to protective cages and security cameras, they recommend lighting, alarms, and security patrols to deter thieves.
Pastor: Thieves Should’ve Asked Us for Help
Pastor Michael Sutton said the church isn’t pressing charges and forgives the thieves. If those people needed money, he added, they should have requested help from the church instead of stealing from it. “We’re not here just to sit here and praise the Lord by ourselves,” Sutton said. “We’re here to help others… that’s our job. The church is no good if it’s not there to help the community.”