Church robber’s plea for prayer

REVIEW SECURITY: Church leaders Karen and Relton Groepe recover from the armed robbery Picture: EUGENE COETZEE
REVIEW SECURITY: Church leaders Karen and Relton Groepe recover from the armed robbery
Picture: EUGENE COETZEE

Elders robbed of cellphones, wallets and handbags in brazen Parkside hold-up

You can continue to pray and please pray for me. These were the parting words uttered by a brazen armed robber as he fled St Mark and St John Anglican Church in Parkside, Port Elizabeth, on Saturday, shortly after he had robbed a prayer group there.

Police are investigating a case of armed robbery following the incident at the Van der Kemp Street church at about 10.10am.

The suspect, wearing a hoodie, a beanie and sunglasses when he entered the church, held up a group of nine church elders before making off with cellphones, cash and handbags.

The church is headed by the Rev Canon Karen Groepe, while her husband, the Rev Relton Groepe, serves as a priest at the same church.

Describing the incident yesterday, Relton said he had been facilitating the training of a group of prayer ministers, which comprised church elders, at the church from about 9am.

“While we were busy, I saw the perpetrator come in. He had been standing at the back,” he said.

“I motioned for him to come forward, which I think put him under pressure to execute his plan.

“When he came forward, he stood back a bit and then drew a pistol. He instructed everyone to lie, face down on the ground.

“He demanded wallets and cellphones, and he moved from pew to pew.

“Just before he left, he said to us, ‘You can continue to pray, and please pray for me.’

 “We called the church’s armed response company which responded in about 10 minutes.“The police also came, but the man could not be found.”

Relton said the robber left his beanie in the church, which they handed to the police.

“We think it was an opportunistic crime and we will be reassessing our security as a result of this incident,” he said.

Asked how the elders had reacted, Relton said: “Their faith and conviction was quite strong.

“The feeling was that we should pray for crime to subside.

“There were no feelings of condemnation for him. We felt we should pray for him.”

Relton said the Anglican leadership in Nelson Mandela Bay had been alerted to the incident.

He said the robbery reflected how desperate people had become in the area, where drugs and other crimes were prevalent.

“We are not sure whether the suspect lives in the vicinity of the church,” Relton said.

Police confirmed they were investigating the incident.

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