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Thou shalt not -- yet someone did

Patio furniture is stolen from a church's new playground.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Members of Garden Crest Presbyterian Church, appalled that anyone would steal from a place of worship, are invoking a higher power in the hope of recovering some of their property.

A sign in front of their church at 5901 Ninth Ave. N pleads: "Please return the patio table & chairs you "borrowed' -- God."

The congregation discovered the loss Sunday before the 8:30 a.m. contemporary service.

It had been about three weeks since the furniture was carefully arranged in the new playground that parents had built for the church's youngest members. While babies rested under the shade of a patio umbrella, toddlers would swing their legs from chairs, drinking cups of juice and eating homemade muffins. Kendal, 4, who has cerebral palsy and is visually impaired, used to happily gravitate to the shady area.

"She knows where everything is on that playground. She used to go there because it was the only shade ... and she went there and it was gone," said her mother, Linda Duart, who is in charge of the church nursery.

Mrs. Duart, who also has a second child, 22-month-old Ryan, said the patio table and four chairs cost about $200 to $300.

"I just couldn't believe it," she said. "It hurts."

The Rev. Tom Greene, pastor of the 300-member church, said he is sad for the parents who worked so hard in recent months to renovate the nursery and equip the playground.

"The adults are just kind of shaking their heads. It's just hard to believe. We just can't believe that somebody would come over and steal from the church. I guess today nothing really shocks you after the things you see on television and read in the newspapers," Greene said.

But he added, "At the same time we were discouraged ... we were thankful they didn't take some of the other playground stuff ... It's a brief setback."

Mrs. Duart said the church did not report the crime until Monday.

"We didn't want police in the parking lot during Sunday services," she said, adding that she tried to explain to the older children what had happened.

Mrs. Duart also is responsible for the sign, patterned on the humorous black and white billboards that purport to quote God.

"I thought maybe if God spoke to them, maybe they'd have a conscience and bring it back," she said.

That may not happen, but others have come to the rescue. One was a Palm Harbor woman who offered $100 toward a new patio set, and another was Rick Stevens, owner and general manager of Pinch-A-Penny, 1173 62nd Ave. N.

"I have relatives that go to that church," Stevens said. "They told me about it and I said, "I can help you out.' "

Besides, he said, "It's the right thing to do."

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