A historic Tamaqua church was the target of thieves this week. Persons presently unknown entered Primitive Methodist Church on Hunter Street sometime between 11 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. Wednesday, according to Tamaqua Patrolman Anthony Stanell.

The culprits then proceeded to rip apart walls and ceilings in their quest to access the copper pipes in the oldest Primitive Methodist Tabernacle in the United States.

The thieves also emptied the food pantry and freezer, as well as stealing cases of paper products.

These items were to be distributed to the needy during the holiday season.

They left behind a chaotic mess and a stunned congregation.

Stanell noted the perpetrators made a forced entry to the building through a rear window.

"It's heartbreaking," offered a dismayed pastor, the Rev Rodney Hall. "Who would have ever thought a church would be the target of such thieves."

Primitive Methodist Church was established in 1830 and is recognized as the oldest church of that denomination in the U.S., according to records.

The congregation's first building was erected in 1845 on land acquired from the Little Schuylkill Navigation Railroad and Coal Company. By 1875, the congregation had outgrown the small stone structure and a new tabernacle was constructed on the original site. That site is just one half-block from the corner home where founder William Donaldson first held services in 1830.

The theft is being investigated by Tamaqua Cpl. Henry Woods and Officer Stanell. Anyone with information may contact the officers at 570-668-5000 or 570-668-6100.

Hall wishes the perpetrators had "just come to me for help. We're not a rich congregation, but we would have found some way to help them."