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'Upsetting': Downtown Barrie church cleaning up after vandalism

Man charged after being found balancing on beam above altar at Trinity Anglican Church; reverend says they're waiting on damage estimate
Trinity Anglican Church Rev. Canon Simon Bell stands near the broken stained-glass window where a man broke into the Collier Street building on Monday. The suspect caused an extensive amount of damage inside the church.

Staff at Trinity Anglican Church in downtown Barrie are preparing to pick up the pieces of a violent act of vandalism which occurred Monday afternoon.

Shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 22, city police responded to a report of a break-and-enter in progress at the Collier Street church.

“Responding officers set up containment around the church upon their arrival in order to ensure the suspect could not escape,” Barrie police communications coordinator Peter Leon said in a Jan. 23 news release.

The suspect entered the church after a stained-glass window located on the northwest side had been broken.

Police said they observed a "significant" amount of damage to property that included an organ, pews and a Christmas nativity scene.

“The suspect responsible was eventually located precariously balancing on a beam that spanned across the front altar area and, after utilizing some successful de-escalation techniques, (officers) were able to convince him to come down and surrender to police,” Leon said.

A 32-year-old man, of no fixed address, was taken into custody and transported to police headquarters where he was charged with mischief over $5,000 and break and enter. The accused has been held in custody and is scheduled to appear in a Barrie court today for a bail hearing.

“He clearly wasn’t intending to steal anything — his intention was simply to do as much damage as he could,” Rev. Canon Simon Bell said during an interview at the church on Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m very thankful to the folks who phoned the police right away, and very thankful the police dealt with it in a good and healthy and constructive way," he added. "They clearly de-escalated the situation, so that mitigated further damage being done to the building."

The congregation remains in a holding pattern before determining its next steps. 

“We are in a situation where we probably won’t be able to use our sanctuary for a few days," Bell said. "We hope to be back in it by Sunday and we’ll keep going, doing what we do.”

Bell said the damage is not too extensive.

“It was more knocking things over and so most of the damage is of that nature,” he said.

The organ has been tipped over, but damages to the instrument, if any, is currently unknown. The insurance company has instructed church officials not to touch or move anything. 

The main damage, however, is the window that was smashed, which is stained glass and dates back to the 1930s.

Bell also described damage to a large wooden screen with carvings, which was broken apart.

“This parish has been through far worse situations," he said. "It’s had fires and all sorts of things. It has survived and picked itself back up.

“It’s upsetting, but at the end of the day it’s not the end of the world.”

But vandalism on the property is almost a daily occurrence in some form or another.

“This was a particularly significant amount of damage that was done, but we deal with it just about every day, whether it’s smashing a pantry box here or at some other churches, or kids vandalizing windows," Bell said. "It’s a part of our lives and we move on as best we can."

Bell believes Trinity Anglican is not alone in such circumstances, with the community rallying around them.

“The instant response from everybody else is ‘how can we help you?’ That’s been the case with all the other churches around us,” he said.

A service scheduled for Thursday is being moved to Collier Street United Church, said Bell, adding he's "thankful" for the assistance. 

“At the end of the day, we work together as we are close to each other in the downtown core. The more we support each other, the better," he said. 

Another example of that community kindness happened when St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church burned, Steckley-Gooderham Funeral Homes stepped in and offered them some space, Bell said.

As for a motive for the vandalism, the reverend said it's hard to say, but he is concerned with social media discussions posted immediately after the incident.

“I think the responses we get online are not helpful,” said Bell. “You know, ‘what about the hand that feeds you?’ There is an assumption there that this is a person within our community of need who has lashed out at us in some way or another. And that might be the case, but it may not. We have no idea.

“We’re just going to accept things for what they are and go forward as we normally do.”

About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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