The window bars, double-bolt locks and heavy chains hint of hidden treasures inside, but behind the crowbarscarred doors is a once ornate church that is now virtually empty.
St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church at 16th and Newton streets NW, the victim of burglaries or burglary attempts several times a month since the late '60s, now has nothing left worth stealing, said the Rev. Jack Woodard, the church's pastor. Burglars even stole a dozen pews that had been bolted to the floor.
The 1970s brought crime to the churches' doorsteps. Urban ministers discovered that the price of their new community outreach programs was burgulars reaching into their buildings.
Some pastors say the increase in crime corresponds to increasing drug use in nearby neighborhoods during the decade. But Woodard, former director of urban programs for the Episcopal Church in this country, said the increase in burglaries also indicates a decline in respect for religious institutions during that decade.
Church burglars are partial to public address systems, brass and silver altar ornaments and office equipment, according to local pastors. In response to the thefts, many local churches have had to begin locking their doors and installing sophisticated security systems.
Luther Place Memorial Church, at 14th Street NW and Thomas Circle in one of the city's busiest drug traffic areas, has been one of the hardest hit over the decade.
Stereo equipment worth more than $1,000 was stolen from there two months ago, despite new security precautions taken by the church, according to the Rev. John Steinbruck, its pastor. Before the windows and doors were secured and a safe was installed, burglars stole the public address system, a movie projector, vacuum cleaners, typewriters, a floor polisher, Steinbruck's car and a large altar Bible autographed by President Woodrow Wilson.
Calvary Baptist Church at Eighth and H streets NW had a string of burglaries last spring in which thieves stole antique brass statues, an oriental rug, collection money and incidentals, according to church business manager Homer Christensen. More recently, spare tires from church members' cars have been stolen while members attended worship services or evening meetings.
Even President Carter's church, First Baptist Church on 16th Street NW, was burglarized last year of its public address system.
National Baptist Memorial Church on Columbia Road NW and Evergreen Baptist Church on Grant Avenue NE also had their sound systems stolen last year.
A host of other inner-city churches report small-scale robberies during 1979, such as stolen collection money or cash taken from women's pocketbooks during chior practice or meetings.
A handful of suburban pastors also report scattered "isolated" instances of small-scale crime, such as stolen pocketbooks.
But on Christmas Day, a burglar stole a safe containing $5,300 in cash and checks from the Calvary Temple Church in Sterling. The enterprising criminal jimmied the door lock, then drove a forklift from the nearby construction site of the church's gym into the church and removed the safe. A construction worker formerly employed by the church has been charged with grand larceny and breaking and entering in the case.
After three tries this fall, burglars wielding a jackhammer broke into the church office of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in the affluent area surrounding Massachusetts and Wisconsin avenues. But according to the church's Rev. Vienna Anderson, the burglars were quickly apprehended by police after triggering an alarm.
Deputy Chief Charles Troublefield of the 4th Police District, where many of these churches are, said that he has noticed more crimes directed at churches in the 1970s. But he said that churches don't have as big a problem as schools and office buildings do.
Troublefield said the police often discover that church burglaries are "inside jobs" carried out by employes or persons involved in religious outreach programs.
Woodard, Steinbruck and the business administrator of Calvary Baptist Church agree with Troublefield that at least some of the robbers are inside jobs. Steinbruck said after his church began a meal program for indigents, he discovered they were "stealing me blind."
Woodard, who has been pastor at St. Stephen and the Incarnation for 10 months, said that the incidence of crime against churches here has "completely blown" his theory that churches that are active in their communities would not be victimized.
"This church is an anthill of commumity activity, we're loved by the neighborhood," he said. The church, which sponsors several programs for the elderly and "street people" of Washington and serves 36,000 meals a year to the poor, was also one of the first churches in the city to become racially integrated and was an early, fervent supporter of the civil rights movement.
Woodard now is heading a campaign to rebuild dwindling church membership and refurbish the church. His first task: repairing most of the 40 to 50 stained glass windows broken by vandals, and protecting them with plexiglass, which will cost the church $22,000.