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Huge cross made of nails knocked down outside Middletown church, dragged to creek, left there

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 8/23/19

A cross weighing at least 500 pounds and standing 7 feet tall was ripped from the grounds of New Beginnings Church at 630 S. Union St. in Middletown sometime Wednesday, dragged down to the bank of …

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Huge cross made of nails knocked down outside Middletown church, dragged to creek, left there

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A cross weighing at least 500 pounds and standing about 7 feet tall was ripped from the grounds of New Beginnings Church at 630 S. Union St. in Middletown sometime Wednesday, dragged down to the bank of the Swatara Creek and left in the water.

It took four men — including church Pastor Britt Strohecker — and a pickup truck to pull the cross out of the creek Thursday, Strohecker said.

“Who would do such a thing? It’s absolutely ridiculous. We were devastated,” said Earl Bright III, who helped pull the cross from the water. “Luckily enough, it was right there at the shoreline.”

The men put nylon straps around the cross so that it could be pulled up the embankment, using the pickup truck.

The cross was made for the church by an artist from Lancaster County who welds pieces of material together to create artwork, usually of a religious nature, Strohecker said.

The artist welded together 3,000 carpenter nails in the form of the cross. The cross was set up in the concrete on the grounds of the church, not far from where the land slopes down to the creek, about a year or two ago. The cross is not easily seen from the street, but was illuminated at night.

The cross is valued at $7,000, but has a value far greater than that to the congregation of New Beginnings, Strohecker said.

The cross was placed by the congregation as a symbol of their gratitude to Jesus Christ and of their faith, and as “a reminder of the love of Jesus Christ that supports their faith,” he said.

“This really has hurt a lot of people in the church. Why would somebody do this?” Strohecker said.

Strohecker said it’s not likely that the cross was stolen by someone on impulse, as a special type of wrench was needed to undo the anchor bolts holding the cross in place in concrete.

He also figures more than one person had to have been involved in the vandalism, given the size and weight of the cross one person acting alone could not have done it.

“This was not done on a whim,” Strohecker told the Press & Journal on Friday.

“You’re not just walking down the street with a wrench. Somebody unbolted it. They let it bend over,” Bright said.

Someone who was working outside on South Union Street first noticed the cross was gone.

The cross vandalism follows by one day an incident in which benches near the cross were discovered pushed over Tuesday.

Both incidents have been reported to Middletown police.

Police do not know if the two incidents are related, Officer Mark Laudenslager told the Press & Journal. But the fact that the two incidents occurred within 24 hours of each other is cause for suspicion, Laudenslager said.

Police are asking anyone who may have seen something or has information to call police at 717-902-0627 or 717-558-6900.

You can also reach police by using Nixle or by contacting them through the Middletown police Crimewatch website.

Strohecker said the church before these two incidents had not had any problems with vandalism.

It could have been done as a prank or an act of mischief, or it could represent the divisions of hate that exist in this country, the pastor said. At this point, nobody knows.

“A lot of people are shocked that someone would do something so hateful towards” the cross, Strohecker said.

“I’m hoping it was only a prank. If it was more than that, that is quite disturbing, as it hits home that we could be having that amount of hate coming to Middletown,” he said.

Laudenslager said it’s too soon to say whether the incident should be treated as a hate crime.

“We haven’t found out the motive,” he said.

The base where the cross sat was damaged, but the cross itself was not.

The cross was made to be out in the weather, so it wasn’t hurt by being in the creek. The three men and Strohecker were careful not to damage it when they pulled the cross out of the creek and placed it in the pickup truck.

Right now the cross is safe and secure in the home of a New Beginnings parishioner.

The church will remount the cross in concrete, although it will be done in a way to make  it more difficult, if not impossible, for this to happen again, Strohecker said.

Before, the cross had been attached in a way so that the church could quickly dislodge it, in case of flooding from the nearby creek.

The church will also install security cameras in the area of the cross. New Beginnings before these two incidents was already planning to install security cameras at the church, as a precaution for the safety of parishioners during services, Strohecker said.

The congregation has already prayed about what happened and has extended forgiveness to whomever vandalized the cross, he said.

At the same time, Strohecker said it is important that police find out who committed the act, so as to provide “a deterrent so we don’t get a trend going” of similar incidents occurring elsewhere in Middletown.