The Good Samaritan didn’t actually help the thief, you know

Right, thanks for your concern, and I love that you’re concerned mostly for the intruder. I am too.

First, our insurers, who specialise in church insurance, know that the church is unlocked night and day. We pay extra for it, but not extortionately – about 10% over a £2,000 (total cover) premium. You can get 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%, and it can be for a locked church, an ‘open during the day and locked overnight’ church or unlocked (if you’ll excuse the expression) 24/7. We’ve gone for the full monty. When our tables were stolen from our unlocked church room, they paid out without question, even though it would have been not unreasonable for them to quibble. They didn’t request that we locked the room either, though that would have been entirely reasonable.

Fire is a real anxiety in a church. There’s a lot of wood; the pews, the roof timbers, quite apart from a rood screen, a reredos, the pulpit and lectern, any soft furnishings which might be used to start a fire. If a fire started, by arson or an electrical fault, it might go for hours before being seen. The walls themselves might survive but immense damage will have been done and ancient churches are listed at the highest level. Repairs would have to be done by specialists to the original specifications and the whole restoration would be a huge job. The stone walls would still stand, but they would be filthy and cracked, and do you remember the fires at York Minster and Windsor Castle? Restoration is an immense task.

It cost us £2,220 to heat and light the church and church rooms last year. We’re not granted money, our regular congregation plus a trust fund (we’re lucky there) paid for that, the insurance, the annual quota to the diocese that pays for our rector, the rectory and to fund the rector’s retirement, as well as contribute to the cathedral’s expenses. Et cetera. I have the accounts before me; we spent £41,000 in total last year (including donations to charity in this country and abroad) and there was a shortfall, we had to dip into our reserves. Please don’t suggest that I’m unsympathetic to a homeless person, but heating that’s normally on for 5 hours a week to be, without my knowledge (it’s my responsibility as churchwarden) or permission, turned on every night for a total of anything from 50 to 100 hours a week can not be ignored. If someone came into your garden and drained the heating oil out of your tank, you’d call it theft. If someone tapped into your electricity supply and used ten times more than you did, but it went on your bill, you’d say he’d stolen it. As I said before, if he has worked out how to get into the extension where the heating controls are kept, he could go into another room which is heated to an acceptable overnight level (we don’t want pipes to freeze and it’s used several times a week) and we’d not know. If I wondered, I’d choose not to know.

Having said that, if I’d gone down tonight, as I did with the Fellow, and found a homeless person, I don’t believe you’d think we’d have turned him away. I’d have explained, offered him the church room for the night, taken him breakfast in the morning and then spent as much time as was needed in helping him. There are shelters for the homeless in Lowestoft and Norwich – I’d take him there, but a local man might not want to go. There is a village charity that could give money. The Fellow and I went along just before 7 pm, and no one was there. I have turned off the boiler in the boiler house and he can’t turn it on again. However, as we are both very concerned to think that someone might be cold tonight, I have left a note with my phone number. If he rings, I’ll do all I possibly can to help, short of letting him into my home. I don’t trust him, he’s a thief. The Good Samaritan helped a traveller who had fallen among thieves.

Oh, and Dave (the Fellow) and I had a chat. “Do we need to spread this around?” I said. “Well, who needs to know?” he replied. “If people knew, they would get worried and want to lock the church.” “I wouldn’t want to turn anyone away.”

So please, darlings, don’t spread it around, because we are praying for this man (a woman would be better placed to receive help). He’ll get help if he is able to stretch out his finger. I sort of don’t expect to know how this ends.

32 comments on “The Good Samaritan didn’t actually help the thief, you know

  1. The Dotterel

    How very odd. Something doesn’t quite add up about this, does it? I think you might be in for a big surprise – that is, if you ever find out who the fellow is! Once he thinks he’s rumbled, chances are you’ll not see him again. Let’s hope he keeps warm.

  2. Dandelion

    If someone came into your garden and drained the heating oil out of your tank, you’d call it theft.

    Yes, quite right, yes I would.

    If someone tapped into your electricity supply and used ten times more than you did, but it went on your bill, you’d say he’d stolen it.

    No, no I wouldn’t. I’d say it was wrong and dishonest and unacceptable, and should be illegal, but I wouldn’t say it was theft. I’d say that I and/or the electricity company needed to make my supply secure.

    In the present instance, the person in question hasn’t tapped into the supply though, they’ve only used it in situ, albeit without permission, and as it happens, against your wishes – which he or she has no way of knowing – they might have thought it wasn’t a big deal and that no-one would mind. On top of which they probably don’t know how expensive it is (if they’re homeless and freezing in -8, it’s probably not their first thought).

    He may be an expensive nuisance, but he’s not a thief. I really do think that’s harsh and inaccurate (cf my comment to the previous). Whatever would Jesus say?

  3. Dandelion

    ps, Actually, if someone tapped into my supply and used it, or broke into my house and cooked their sausages, I’d think about claiming on the insurance. I’d probably find I wasn’t covered, but I’d put in a clause on the next renewal. Don’t know if this applies as a sensible suggestion, but I just thought I’d mention it.

  4. Dave

    In this country, theft was codified into a statutory offence in the Theft Act 1968 which defines it as:

    “A person is guilty of theft, if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it”. (Section 1)

    Burning oil from z’s church’s oil tank (which they have of cours paid for in advance, so it is clearly their property) seems to fall within this definition quite clearly.

  5. Z

    Thanks, Dave. You’re right.

    Whilst I can see that someone, caught out, might take refuge in a church, working out an alternative way to open a locked and bolted door, finding how to turn on the heating and then sneaking out leaving no trace before there’s a likelihood of anyone coming in the next day doesn’t seem the action of a pathetic and needy person. I’d left the controls different on Sunday than I had on Saturday and he left them as I had in each case.

    This isn’t the age of the workhouse. If someone needs help it’s available. I don’t think Jesus ever advocated theft or fraud and in fact there was still a warm room for the person to take refuge in if he was desperate. Everyone knows the price of fuel and this isn’t a one-off. I’ve no idea how long it’s been going on for.

  6. Eddie 2-Sox

    Sorry Z, but I’m finding this all rather intriguing and exciting, like a low-key episode of Poirot unfolding in real life!

    Are all the possibilities excluded? I like the idea of Dave’s Disgruntled Luddite. And, of course, “Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth” (The Sign Of Four).

  7. Dave

    Of course there are still many other possibilities: z may sleep-walk for instance, and subconsciously be finding the hidden luddite within.

  8. sablonneuse

    Oh gosh, I can see why you leave the church unlocked all the time but, obviously, someone is taking advantage.
    Actually, I used to feel safer having to collect the key and then locking myself in when I used to practise the organ even though it was a quiet country church.

  9. Z

    I suspect the dog in the night, myself. The one which didn’t bark.

    If I stay there all night, do you think I could put the heating on?

    Manic darling, I only live a couple of hundred yards from the church. I trust that you’d have the good sense to knock on my door and you can come and be fed, vodkaed and tucked into a warm bed.

    Sandy, I’d rather confront someone in church than have the prospect of meeting someone outside. I know other organists (I didn’t know you were one of our happy band, BTW) who lock themselves in, but the thought makes me nervous, in an obscure way.

    It must cost about £3 per hour to heat the church. The church can’t afford an extra £150 or £200 a week, even if asked and if we wanted to. It would be easy to be profligate with money that doesn’t belong to me in the name of generosity (or indeed of Jesus) but it would be dishonest and hypocritical.

  10. Penny

    Z, I left a comment on your last post. So, I won’t reiterate all of that, here.

    I think it’s great that you left your number. And, you don’t have to trust him. But, trust God. And, take precaution.

    But, I really have to object to your statement, “I don’t trust him; he’s a thief.”

    He may be. He may have had the intent to steal, he may be a thief without intent, regardless, by the letter of the law he is a thief. But, do not simply regard him by this.

    I can tell you that when you are tired and hungry, you are not a thief, you are desperate and you cannot respect the law, if you are in any condition to understand it, when it stands between you and a meal or a safe place to sleep.

    I don’t blame you for your perception. I wish that everyone had to go three weeks without food or lodging, just once in their lives. Perceptions would be dramatically changed.

    I know we need law to be civilized, to set boundaries and guidelines. I’m not suggesting that personal circumstance make law malleable. I just implore you to not cause personal circumstance to wholly taint this man’s character.

  11. Z

    I don’t judge him, Penny. I certainly would be completely compassionate in person, and here if this were a one-off, but it’s been going on for a while. When I’ve been in the church recently, I’ve been a bit puzzled that it’s been warmer than I’d have expected considering that the heat has been (officially) off since 25th Dec.

    The thing is, there is no need for anyone to go without food or lodging. This is England in 2009, not Ireland in 1830. Our church minister is not unused to having people on the doorstep asking for help and I do not know anyone who would not know how to claim benefits or find somewhere to sleep if they were homeless. Tired and hungry, maybe, but smart enough to break through a locked door, deal with a tricky control pad and leave no trace, not even cigarette smoke, which I’d smell, even hours later. As I said before, I can’t let money that I’m responsible for but that isn’t mine be spent dishonestly. I’ve known quite a few people, including those who have been in prison, whom I would treat with respect and courtesy but would not trust. I’ve know others, including those who have been in prison, whom I would. I thought it was a bit of a leap of faith giving my first name, which is distinctive, and my phone number.

    ASK and it shall be given unto you.

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone (and to the adulterous woman) go away and sin no more. I’ve found over the years that you can only do so much. The other person has to lift a finger too.

  12. Z

    That won’t stop a ghost. But I did think of it. However, if someone really needs shelter, it’s awfully cold out and the porch only has mesh doors.

  13. Dandelion

    Also, if it isn’t a ghost but a person, it might not be so easy for them to go to a hostel or something if they didn’t have a car, might it?

    Oooh, you don’t think it could be an escaped serial-killer, do you?

  14. Z

    I’d take him, I said so and I’d give him a good meal first. There is a council office in Yagnub and a CAB where he could go for help, as well as rectories and vicarages and manses and *where RC priests live*, if he likes churches. I could arrange for him to get some emergency money if he’s a village resident (when he had somewhere to live, that is).

    No, I don’t. Do you?

  15. luckyzmom

    I think that it is possible that it is someone you know who is not indigent, but who has used the space for another purpose and forgot to turn off the heat. Perhaps the use involved the larger table you say was switched. If discovered they would probably be very embarassed and not face up to doing it.

  16. Caitlin

    Z, for what it’s worth, I think you are displaying the perfect balance of compassion and caution.

    I must agree that it’s all rather exciting and Agatha Christie for myself as a distant reader (or maybe I just need to get out more…or watch less Midsomer).

  17. Dandelion

    I wasn’t concerned about whether you’d take him, z, but more about the mitigation of his circumstances that might lead him to do what he’s done.

    But this is of cours all assuming that it is a harmless homeless person. Like I say, it could be someone on the run from the law. A serial killer or worse.

    Ooh, Caitlin, d’you watch Midsomer?

  18. Z

    I’ve never seem Midsomer, but I rather wish i had, because I think I met someone from the programme and I think it would have been polite to have known that. Social faux pas hit me unawares.

  19. Dandelion

    I sometimes watch Midsomer also, Caitlin. I thought z had met someone from it.

    But I bet it wasn’t a faux pas, z. I’m sure lots of people on tele know that not everyone watches every programme.

    I met a man from Casualty and Dr Who the other day who’d been in Strictly and had his own merchandise effigy, yet I had no idea who he was, because I don’t watch any of those programmes.


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