A church in Wellington is reeling from the theft of precious religious garments from its temple, and desperately wants to see them returned.

Just after 2am on Tuesday, CCTV footage showed a trio wandering into the Serbian Orthodox Church on The Parade in Island Bay, priest Father Predrag Grubacki said.

When they left, one was carrying his robe and hat — “sanctified pieces” — that should not be worn by anyone except priests, he said.

“Those items are extremely valuable for services, and cannot be replaced in New Zealand,” he said.

“I do realise that they look like a costume, and maybe those youngsters took it for fun. But without knowing, they are desacralising it, by using it in the purpose they are not meant to be used.”

The trio looked to be two men and a woman in their early 20s, he said.

The items had been in Grubacki’s possession for eight years since he had become a priest, and he brought them from Serbia to Aotearoa when he emigrated seven years ago.

They were “just a piece of cloth” to the thieves, but had a special meaning and purpose for worshipping, Grubacki said. And while worship could continue without them, “it just won’t be the same”.

The theft has not yet been reported to police, as Grubacki hoped the items would be returned without needing to do so.

“In that case, there will not be hard feelings on our side,” he said. “I’m just hoping the youngsters will realise what they’ve done, and that they’ll return the items back to us.”

It was the second theft the church had dealt with in recent months, said Grubacki.

“One opportunist came straight from the street and walked into our church, and stole maybe half a kilo of coins.”

The church doors were often unlocked so people could worship any time, but that would probably have to change, he said.

“We just might consider locking the doors even during the day, which would be sad for people who wanted to come to church when they want.

“Our community [has been] here for over 50 years, and we cannot recall that something like this ever happened in the past.”

By Lauren Crimp for rnz.co.nz