In the evening of Sept. 18, neighbors of the Christ the King Lutheran Church noticed the building's office window was smashed.
They quickly realized that the church was broken into and that the inside was ransacked. They got in touch with members of the congregation to start boarding up broken windows. The Billings Police Department showed up shortly after.
Pastor Ryan Wendt, who was out of town until that Friday, heard about the destruction.
Banners were slashed, windows were broken, and fire extinguisher residue covered the entire sanctuary in white powder.
Someone, or a group of people, broke into the church through the office window and attempted to light a fire after destroying everything they could, including some of Wendt’s sentimental items like a diploma and artwork. A profanity-laced note was left on his desk.
Everything was in disarray, but not much, to Wendt’s knowledge, was stolen.
Even after a week of restoration work, the church is estimating about $50,000 in repairs. The church and its contents are insured, Wendt said.
Repair crews got to work, and the church was able to hold service on Sunday.
“We don’t have access to our office space and some of our other building uses, including the organ, but the restoration company worked really hard Thursday, Friday and Saturday so we could at least be in the sanctuary together,” Wendt said.
Wendt believes that someone, or multiple people, broke into the church late Tuesday night on Sept. 17 or early Wednesday morning on Sept. 18.
Police hope to recover security camera footage from a DVR that was damaged in the incident. So far, the suspect or suspects have not been identified, according to Billings Police Department Lt. Brandon Wooley.
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Wooley said that the incident is defined as a burglary to a business and is under investigation by local detectives.
Wendt believes that the note left on his desk wasn’t targeted at him directly, but maybe at the church or churches in general. It read, “What goes around comes around,” and continued into a slurry of profanities.
“It makes us suspicious,” Wendt said. “I don’t know if it was someone we knew or something like that, but we’re a pretty small congregation and a tight-knit group of people and we haven’t had any issues with members or problems at our church at all.”
Two weeks ago, the church demolished a few vacant buildings on five acres of land to the east at the corner of Calhoun Lane and King Avenue East near Cabela’s. The congregation members purchased the land for a new church they hope to start building next year.
While the reason isn’t clear, a member of the congregation speculated that someone who had sought shelter in one of the vacant buildings was angry after they were demolished.
“There haven’t been any incidents whatsoever,” Wendt said. “We have a lot of vagrants who come in during the day. One was just here as I was just answering the phone, and we give water and what we can to help in little ways.”
This isn’t the first incident the church members have seen in the building’s 50-year history.
The parking lot light has been shot out before, and police have said that the area was used as a drop-off point for drug dealers in the past. The church installed security cameras a few years ago.
In 1992, part of the church burned down because of an arson fire months after the church’s 25th anniversary. The sheet rock was replaced and a sprinkler system was added. Wendt said that the church now has new security cameras and an alarm system.
But despite encouragement from others to move the church further west, Wendt said that the congregation will continue to serve Billings’ South Side.
“Plans for the future are to keep doing what we’re doing, preaching God’s Word and instructing people in the Christian faith,” Wendt said. “There was some desire and even some encouragement from others outside our church for us to move farther west, and we’ve decided that we’re a part of this community and we want to be a part of this community on the South Side.”