A 27-year-old man is in jail for criminal mischief after entering St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Stephenville and causing extensive damage while reportedly under the influence of some type of drug. As reported by the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, Jeffrey Travelstead was arrested by the Stephenville Police around midnight after a person driving past the church noticed him outside, setting items he had taken from the church in the middle of the road.
The Rev. Curt Norman and his family, who live next door to the church, and members of the vestry were notified and came down to the church in the middle of the night. The Sheriff of Erath County, Tommy Bryant, is also a member of St. Luke’s and described some of the damage they found: a broken stained glass window, brass candlesticks thrown against the wall, damage to the baptismal font, artwork, statues, and photos.
Members of the vestry and the Normans were there until about at 3 am, picking up broken glass and damaged items thrown around inside of the church and retrieving things that had been set out in the street. After cleaning up what they could, Norman said, they placed the candlesticks, artwork, and other items in the middle of the altar and stood around it to pray.
“We prayed for [Travelstead] for healing, and we prayed for ourselves – for the grief we feel, and we asked that God will walk with us. We need to be attentive to the pain this has caused but also realize that God will work through it and work through us. Placing things on the altar, we were reminded of Jesus being laid in the tomb; we have to remember also that Easter morning came afterwards.” – The Rev. Curt Norman, Rector
While an immediate thought, especially in the wake of the deadly shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, might be to assume the vandalism was motivated by some type of animosity toward the church specifically, Norman didn’t feel it would be accurate to jump to that conclusion after speaking with law enforcement officers. Bryant indicated he believed Travelstead was high on some type of drug when he did all the damage to the church. He had signed the guestbook while in the church and was reportedly wearing a visitor sticker when he was arrested. The Empire-Tribune reported that the suspect had a ten-year criminal history with repeated offenses, including several drug-related. He is now in custody at the Erath County Jail.
The Rt. Rev. Rayford High drove to Stephenville in the afternoon to take a look at the damage and talk with members of the vestry. He had spoken with Norman in the middle of the night, when the damage was discovered. Norman, a member of the diocesan deputation to General Convention, had debated staying behind after the incident, but Bishop High urged him to keep that commitment and serve with the deputation in Salt Lake City, Utah.
This morning, after having done what clean-up they could during the night, church members contacted the Church Insurance Agency, which handles property insurance for St. Luke’s and other churches in the diocese. The church, the diocese, and the insurance adjuster are coordinating efforts as they begin the process of assessing and later repairing the damage caused.
“The most important thing,” Norman noted, “is that no one got hurt.”