Vandals strike century-old Icelandic church in rural Manitoba
Hands broken off statue of Jesus at oldest-standing Icelandic Lutheran church in Canada
People in a small Manitoba town are looking for answers after vandals broke into a century-old church — a heritage site — badly damaging a statue that might be as old as the church.
"It's kind of hard to believe that anybody would come into a church and do that," said Don Gudnason, a board member of Grund Frelsis Lutheran Church, just north of the small town of Baldur, Man.
Gudnason said the vandals struck sometime after a funeral on Sunday and early Monday morning.
Gudnason said he was called early Monday morning by a parishioner on his way to work in nearby Glenboro.
He stopped when he saw the statue of Jesus propped up against a war memorial, its hands broken, its arms cracked.
"No idea what they were thinking," said Gudnason, who believes at least two people are responsible, as it typically takes two people to lift the plaster statue.
He said church members later found a path of destruction at the church, located along a gravel road north of town. It's used for services during the summer months.
Gudnason said along with the stolen statue, beer cans had been left all over the floor, a Bible stand had been broken, and obscenities were left in the church's guest book.
On Wednesday, the phrases "Drink Beer" and "Haunt Me" were written in large letters on the last open page, which contained the names of people who had attended the funeral on Sunday.
He said the small congregation can't believe what has happened.
"They're all quite shocked that in a rural setting like this that it is going on," he said.
Visible from several kilometres away atop a small, grassy hill, it was built in 1899 and has been in use ever since.
More than $80,000 in renovations has been put into the heritage site in the last several years.
Gudnason isn't sure of the damaged statue's age, but knows it's been around for decades and is possibly as old as the church itself. He said he's not sure whether it can be repaired or must be replaced. In either case, it will be quite an expense on the church's tight budget, which relies heavily on donations.
This weekend, the church is hosting its annual "Pack the pews" event, a large, popular summer service.
Gudnason says the priority will be to repair the damage before the Sunday service, but added he knows it will weigh heavily on minds of parishioners.
He said the vandals may have been caught on surveillance tape, but no one has any idea who they are.
"I'm really not too sure what you'd say to somebody like that," Gudnason said, pausing. "You can kind of sum that up in your own words."
A neighbour told CBC News that it's the first time he's heard of someone breaking into the church and causing damage in the nearly two decades he's lived next door.
Gudnason has no doubt that church members will step up to foot the bill to repair or replace the statue.
"I imagine we'll make out," he said. "We'll carry on as we always have."