Metal theft from Baptist churches in Great Britain has risen to record levels this year.
By the end of October, one company, Baptist Insurance, had received 110 claims for theft of metal, already exceeding its previous worst year, 2008, by more than 20.
The total cost of the metal theft claims for 2011 stands at more than $250,000, again a record.
In 2008, the company dealt with nearly 90 claims from its insured churches and paid out an estimated $196,000 in claims.
The theft of metal from churches is linked directly to the price of lead, which rose sharply at the start of 2011.
“It has been the worst year for metal theft this year, both in terms of number of claims and cost of claims,” said Katri Link, Baptist Insurance press officer.
“At the start of the year we saw the price of metal go up – the demand in the market from the Far East is high – and there is a direct correlation.”
Churches everywhere have been suffering, although 2008 remains the worst year across all denominations.
Link said there was no obvious reason for such a sharp rise in the Baptist denomination. “People might be more aware of what is out there,” she told The Baptist Times.
Theft of metal from other historic buildings and railways as well as churches is a growing problem, accounting for 7,000 to 10,000 crimes per month across the nation, British Transport Police spokesperson, Simon Letouze, told Ecumenical News International in September.
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther of the British Transport Police described the issue as “one of the force’s biggest challenges after terrorism.”
English Heritage recently changed its guidance to relax requirements on replacement material when buildings and monuments have been damaged.
The effects on a church can range from devastating to deeply inconvenient.
The theft of lead from roofs has caused steeples to fall in some cases, such as St. John The Evangelist Church in Huddersfield.
Abingdon Baptist Church in Oxfordshire was recently targeted for the second time this year, with thieves stealing lead from its roof.
The $3,100 repair costs could have been higher if it hadn’t happened in a relatively dry period.
“We are more exasperated than anything,” David Fleming, the church’s minister, told The Baptist Times. “If we’d had torrential rain, it would have been much worse.
“It is covered by insurance, but our premiums will be higher. More than anything, it’s frustrating and exasperating. Various people in the church have had to spend a lot of time and energy dealing with this.
“We are heavily involved in our community, and we’ve got better things to do.”
Link said Baptist Insurance has a policy of trying to keep premiums as they are. It also regularly issues guidance to churches on how best to stay safe, with all churches encouraged to use the SmartWater kit, thought to deter some thieves.
Improving security lighting, installing posts that restrict auto access, and installing alarm systems are just a few possible steps that can be taken. After a successful pilot in 2010, churches now also have the option of roof alarms.
There have also been calls to tighten the regulation of the scrap metal trade.
Describing metal theft as “out of control,” Member of Parliament Graham Jones recently introduced a bill that would abolish cash payments for scrap, make photo IDs mandatory for sellers and give police powers to close any yard where stolen material was found.
Link said the insurance company supports the bill; Fleming added that anything that targets the unscrupulous metal dealers is “a good thing.”