TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW)-First Congregational United Church of Christ is known for its symbolic Forgiven Man sculpture in the center of the courtyard. And on October 3, 2012, it was stolen.
"The statue is an icon to the church. So, when you come to church, you felt like something was missing," said church member, Larry Walters.
Thieves unbolted the 10-foot tall bronze sculpture from its pedestal, and had plans to cut it up and sell it for scrap metal.
"Very mad and very sad and very unbelieving that such a thing could be done," said sculptor, Jim Bass.
The church put out a $2,000 reward for its return.
"We just hoped and prayed that someone would return it," said Pastor Tobias Schlingensiepen.
And instead of replacing the sculpture, church goers did something else to fill up its spot.
"Every member of the church stood where the statue did stand and they took pictures of everybody in the church one by one to kinda see what it felt like to be a Forgiven Man," said Walters.
And 8 days later, their prayers were answered and the sculpture was returned. The thieves could have been prosecuted, but the church decided to forgive them instead. Jim Bass, the sculptor, spent 7 months repairing it and now the congregation is anxiously awaiting its unveiling.
It was unveiled Sunday and church members are delighted they can see the Forgiven Man sculpture every Sunday to appreciate its symbolism.
"The message of forgiveness and love is really central to it and it is there again reminding us of that," said Schlingensiepen.
The sculpture is worth $40,000 and Jim Bass said it was welded and bolted back into place which makes it very difficult to ever be stolen again.