Thieves here have been stealing valuables from members of the congregation during church services.

Pastor Berry Dambaza of Upper Room Ministries, a local Pentecostal church, told The Zimbabwean that they were forced to tighten security during their services.

“We had a serious problem a few years ago. At one point we set a trap and we were surprised that it was a respected member of the church who was responsible for the thefts. She used her children to steal handbags and cell phones in the church,” he said.

After police arrested the suspect, she left the church.

“In another case a parishioner directed a child to collect a handbag that belonged to another, saying it was hers,” Dambaza said “We have had a lot of these cases and it appears our church is being targeted.”

There are fears that gangs are targeting church services across the city. “This is particularly disturbing because there could be a syndicate operating in the area,” said a local policeman.

“Earlier this year, we recovered some stolen items and among them was a phone which we traced to a church in Westgate. The owner confirmed that the phone had been stolen during a service.”

Similar reports of theft have been reported at a mosque in Mbare. As a requirement, Muslims take off their shoes and leave them outside the mosque during their services.

“We had to hire a security guard to look after our shoes because once we came out and found them all gone,” said Aisha Doubt, a Muslim parishioner.

Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said it was up to the churches to report these cases to the authorities. However, one pastor blamed the police for showing a lack of interest in the thefts.

“Our congregants must realise that a church is a public venue and not everybody who comes to church is a saint,” said the pastor.