All pastors deal with problems that are rarely discussed in public.

Father David Epps's picture

Once, in a church I served in another state, a young teenage boy secretly smeared human feces on the walls of the men’s restroom several times before he was caught.

Why he did it was anybody’s guess. We dealt with it privately behind the scenes. That’s not something you talk about in the women’s meeting or speculate on over coffee with a prospective member.

Then there was the 16-year-old that brought marijuana with him to youth meetings and singled out certain kids to entice them to give it a try. If they liked it, he promised to supply them with all they wanted — for a price, of course.

Then there was the lady, a member of my church, who, when stopped by the police for driving while intoxicated, offered to provide sex to the officer if he would let her go without arresting her. Unfortunately for her, the whole transaction was caught on videotape.

Like I said, some problems are rarely discussed in public and are better dealt with privately and behind the scenes.

So, when a friend, who is also a pastor, called from another state to share a problem, I wasn’t surprised. It seems that someone was regularly stealing, of all things, the “oil of anointing.”

In the fifth chapter of the New Testament Book of James, people who are sick are instructed to call for the elders of the church who will anoint them with oil and pray “the prayer of faith.” Consequently, many churches have containers of olive oil that have been set aside for such a purpose.

Normally, this oil is kept in the sanctuary somewhere near the communion table or the pulpit. The oil is not expensive and why anyone would steal it was unimaginable.

At first, my friend thought that someone had borrowed the oil to take it to the hospital or to someone’s home to anoint them and pray for them. But when the oil kept disappearing again and again, he realized that something was fishy.

He concluded that the oil had to be taken by someone who had a key since there was no evidence of break-ins. The only question seemed to be whether the oil was being taken by a key holder, who was currently active in the church, or whether it was being taken by someone who had left the church but still had a key.

Either way, it was disturbing. After all, what could possibly be the reason for continually removing the oil from use? Was there someone who was trying to prevent healing prayer? Was the oil being used somehow in some macabre demonic ritual? Whoever it was, the purpose seemed nefarious.

We spoke at length about what could be done about the situation. Should the oil be locked away? Should he report these goings-on to the council? Should the locks be changed and the keys be re-issued? Should a security company be contacted and cameras installed?

Then there was the issue of when the culprit is caught, how is it to be handled?

These are things that pastors and priests contend with, of which the average church member is blissfully unaware.

I even talked to my wife about my friend’s dilemma. “You won’t believe what someone is stealing at Pastor (name deleted)’s church,” I announced. She, too, was appalled and concerned.

These things are touchy. If the acts are being committed by someone outside the church membership, the choices are easy. Lock ‘em up or let ‘em off.

Personally, I have no difficulty with locking up lawbreakers. If someone vandalizes the church or steals equipment, I am all for allowing them to reap what they have sown.

But when the offenders are in the church, it poses all kinds of other problems. After all, the criminals are members of your own family and they are likely related to other members within the family.

We didn’t prosecute the feces-smearing youth. I did threaten with bodily harm and promise jail to the dope-providing moron if I ever caught him doing that again.

And I never told the husband of the lady who appeared on videotape. All these were handled behind the scenes and the members of the congregations and those in the general public never knew. I didn’t envy my pastor friend.

A couple of weeks later, my friend called and triumphantly announced, “David, we caught the dirty rat that’s been stealing our oil!” “Hey, that’s great!” I responded. “Who was it?” I asked.

“A rat,” he said.

“A rat?”

“Yep, a rat.”

“You mean a ‘rat’ rat?” I asked.

“Yep. A ‘rat’ rat.” He said.

It seems that, somehow, during the cold winter months, a rat had found its way into the church building. Who knew that rats eat oil if they are hungry enough?

We sat for a moment in silence taking it all in when he finally said, “Boy, I sure am glad I didn’t stand up on Sunday morning and accuse somebody in the church of stealing our oil!” We both laughed hilariously at that.

Later, I thought how terribly it could have turned out. What if the locks had been re-keyed, the old keys recalled, an investigation launched, and security cameras installed. What if suspicion had been aroused between church members? What if, after all that, the culprit was found to be a rat?

Hey, people have left churches and churches have split over less! He dodged a bullet on that one.

Still, I don’t fault him in the least. People sometimes say that pastors and priests live in ivory towers far removed from reality. They couldn’t be more mistaken. We see more sins and faults in a week than most people see in a year.

I’m just glad that this time the dirty rat who stole the oil turned out to be a “rat” rat!

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Submitted by dollaradayandfound on Fri, 03/16/2007 - 2:01pm.

Do you know if this is how the catholics got into so much trouble with their priests? Settle it in house?
A person of some other religion is as deserving of the treatment you give your members as is your members. Or, for that matter an atheist.
I understand the "family" attitude, but it is NOT a family, a church.
Otherwise Preachers wouldn't be shifting around all of the time.

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