MILLVILLE — Members of the In His Presence Worship Center congregation have seen their share of turmoil in recent months.

First, their church at Broad and Third streets burned in a Dec. 22 fire that occurred just a few hours before a planned Christmas dinner for the less fortunate members of the center-city neighborhood that surrounds the building.

Then the congregation thought it could spend as long as a year holding services in a vacant store at the Union Lake Crossing shopping center. That hope was dashed when, after investing thousands of dollars to make the storefront seem more like a house of worship, the congregation was ordered out of the building about three weeks ago because of zoning issues.

And just when the congregation settled into its new service site at St. John Bosco Roman Catholic Church in Millville, there was more bad news: Church members earlier this week discovered that vandals ransacked the remains of the Broad Street church that the congregation somehow hoped to salvage. The church’s doors were kicked in and intruders stole copper pipes, heating vents, circulation pumps and other materials that city police believe will be sold for scrap.

“These are the times that we live in,” said the Rev. David Ennis, a local resident who founded the nondenominational church about 10 years ago. “People, when they’re not working, will just take. I’m trying to look at it with a more realistic view. There are no jobs here.”

But the incident still stings.

“It’s not an excuse,” Ennis said of what caused the theft and damage.

City police Lt. Ed Zadroga said the investigation continues into who stole the materials from the church.

What is clear is that the church is not alone in being looted for its scrap metal, Zadroga said. That situation is now an “epidemic” locally, he said.

City police said people are taking copper pipes, metal, compressors and air conditioners from homes — and even parts of vehicle engines — to sell for scrap. Police said they caught one man snipping thin copper grounding wires from a utility pole with a pair of scissors.

Zadroga said the thefts are creating significant problems: Basements are flooding when vandals cut into the plumbing. Holes are being punched in walls so intruders can find hidden pipes. One home filled with gas after intruders mistakenly cut a gas line.

The problem is not unique to this city as people cope with in bad economic times.

Police in several South Jersey municipalities have reported dealing with copper thefts. Utility companies also say that wire theft is a growing problem.

But right now, Ennis’ problem is the future of his church.

While officials at St. John Bosco, which still holds some services at the site following a parish merger in 2010, have been “cordial and respectful,” Ennis said, but he does not know how long his church can continue to use that facility.

Ennis said that while church leaders are considering several options, none of which he would discuss, the primary goal remains.

“We are going to try to build the church right back there,” Ennis said of the Broad Street location. “That’s contingent on a lot of things. You just don’t know whether it would even be allowed now.”

Ennis said his congregation is holding up well despite undergoing some disappointing days in the past few months.

“Overall, they are people of tremendous faith,” he said. “We understand that, as people of faith, there are times when you have bad experiences. During those times, you need to exhibit that faith more than ever.”

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