WEST BURLINGTON TWP. - The annual service at the Old M.E. Church is a time each year for the faithful to worship, learn some history about the historic church, and grab a bite to eat at a picnic afterwards.

But this year, the service, which would have been held this Sunday, Aug. 10, has been canceled.

Vandals have caused so much damage that the annual service, a long-time tradition, was called off for the first-time ever at the church, located along Route 6 in West Burlington Township, near Burlington Borough.

"There's too much destruction," said Audrey Schanbacher, who serves on the committee that maintains the historic church. She is also a descendant of the McKeans, who she said provided the land for the church and helped build it. The church was constructed in 1822.

She said the people who come to the church for the annual service are not happy with the vandalism that has caused the cancellation of the service.

"They're really upset, most of them," she said. About 100 people come to the service each year.

The church has been the victim of vandals over the past couple years, and the church's caretakers decided to lock it up, following some vandalism last fall that the police had investigated and labeled "mischief."

But then the vandals smashed the front doors and broke the locks this spring, and caused even more damage. Schanbacher said that the troublemakers returned after that, and caused even more damage.

"It looks like a mess, it's just sickening," said Schanbacher.

This time, however, the police are calling the damage "vandalism" rather than "mischief," she said.

She said the vandals broke 12 windows out, from the inside.

"It's all historic glass in there, it's hard to come by," she commented.

Schanbacher said vandals also smashed the whole railing around the altar and broke it into little pieces. The pump organ was torn apart and the floor was pulled up around the altar.

Beer bottles, vodka bottles, and cigarette butts have been left behind and hymn books were tossed about.

"We really don't know who's doing it, because if we did, the police would do something about it," Schanbacher noted.

"This group, whoever is in there, has really tore it apart."

Restoration work has taken place at the church over the years, which makes the vandalism even more hurtful for those who care for the church.

"It's stuff we fixed and they're damaging it again," Schanbacher said.

Currently, the caretakers are trying to repair the latest vandalism.

Schanbacher stressed that the church is not an abandoned building.

"We keep it up as best as we can," she said. "When you keep having to do it over and over, it gets ridiculous."

Schanbacher, whose son, Phillip, is the church historian, noted that the church is the oldest in Bradford County, and is on the Methodist Church Historical Buildings list.

Perhaps indicative of Schanbacher's concern for the church is how she didn't use the word "damaged" in describing the vandalism to the church, but talked about the building as if it were an injured person.

"There's just so much of it that has been hurt, it's hard to even think about having a service."

She asks the public that if they notice anything suspicious to report it to the state police at Towanda.

Schanbacher said a sign will be put up at the church Sunday, notifying anyone who might show up of the cancellation and that they can attend service at 11 a.m. at the nearby West Burlington United Methodist Church.

Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: reviewtroy@thedailyreview.com.