Vandalism to 20-member church leaves officials, parishioners perplexed

OGILVILLE — Services at Ohio Chapel United Methodist Church were canceled Sunday as parishoners continue to wonder who vandalized their sanctuary and attempted to burn down their building.

“It’s pretty bad in there,” Pastor Lonny Goen said in a telephone interview Sunday morning at about the time services would normally start at the church, which is southwest of Columbus on a narrow county road off of State Road 58.

A reward has been posted by Indiana’s State Fire Marshal seeking information about the damage at the estimated more than 100-year-old church, which had its doors nailed shut and yellow police tape around its exterior Sunday morning.

No arrests have been made for the arson and vandalism yet, although Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said evidence from the Ohio Chapel church and a Brown County church that also was vandalized could lead to suspects. Another church near the Ohio Chapel church also had damaged windows, but investigators don’t know if it is linked, Myers said.

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The 20-member congregation is “pretty upset,” said Pastor Lonny Goen, who serves the church along with Taylorsville United Methodist Church in Bartholomew County. “But there isn’t any concern about the life of the church. We are insured. Insurance will cover what happened.”

The vandalism and fire was discovered at 2:29 p.m. Saturday when a maintenance worker planning to mow the lawn around the church saw the building’s windows had been broken and called Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputies.

All but three of the church’s sanctuary windows were broken, Goen said, and now are covered with plywood.

Investigators have told church members that a nearby neighbor reported noise in the area of the church at about 11:30 p.m. Friday or midnight, which is when the incident is believed to have happened.

The church is in an isolated rural area, on the knoll of a hill on a two-lane county road at 111275 W. County Road 525S. There is a small gravel parking lot next to the building and the church cemetery is around the back of the facility.

The vandals attempted to start fires throughout the building, including attempting to set a Bible and a hymn book on fire in the sanctuary, Goen said. There was also an attempt to set a floral arrangement on fire in the sanctuary, he said. Portions of the carpet also were burned.

However, the most extensive fire damage occurred in the church basement, and Goen does not know how that fire was started, he said. That fire burned itself out before causing more extensive damage, he said.

Goen said members of the congregation were invited to attend services in Taylorsville and several other churches in the Bartholomew County area have offered their buildings as a location for the Ohio Chapel members to worship.

The pastor said the offers were appreciated and being considered, but the members are still a little shocked about the incident.

“There is no justification for this whatsoever,” Myers said Sunday. “They (vandals) went in with the sole purpose of destroying property and the fact that it’s more than one church shows it was thought out,” he said. “It’s pure meanness.”

Myers said he is hopeful someone will come forward to reveal who damaged the churches and emphasized the tips could be anonymous.

“I’m confident we’ll catch them,” he said. “The main thing, if people heard or saw anything, they need to call us.”

Anyone with information about the vandalism and arson is asked to contact Detective Will Kinman at 812-565-5926 or call the sheriff’s tip line at 812-379-1712.

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Anyone with information about the vandalism and arson is asked to contact Detective Will Kinman at 812-565-5926 or call the sheriff’s tip line at 812-379-1712.

The State Fire Marshal’s office and the International Association of Arson Investigators Indiana Chapter 14 is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of the individuals responsible for the fire. To provide information, call 800-382-4628. Information may be provided anonymously. For more information, visit