That someone would forge more than $15,000 in checks from a church is “just a sign of the times we’re living in,” according to the Rev. Robert Blythe.

“Folks these days are willing to do anything to satisfy what they define as their needs,” he said.

First Baptist Church at Francis and Collins streets, the downtown church at which Blythe is pastor, discovered earlier this month that at least 37 checks had been taken from the church and forged at Richmond businesses.

The church reported the forgery Nov. 3 to Richmond Police.

A Winchester woman was arrested Sunday in connection with the forgery of four of the checks, and police are working to determine whether she forged the others, according to Major Bob Mott of the Richmond Police Department.

Briana Nicole Abney, 22, is lodged in the Madison County Detention Center, charged with four counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and four counts of identity theft in connection with the church’s stolen checks.

When she was arrested Sunday by Winchester Police, she also had an outstanding warrant for two unrelated counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. The warrant was for two other checks, allegedly written to Kroger and Walmart, that belonged to another victim.

Police still are obtaining surveillance footage from Walmart, where all but one of the church’s checks were forged. The video will help investigators determine whether all of the checks were written by Abney or if someone else was writing checks, too, Mott said. More charges are likely.

“She (Abney) had been writing them for awhile,” he said. The first check was written Oct. 7, he said, but Abney allegedly wrote checks all month until the church got its bank statement and reported the theft.

The checks apparently were written for merchandise such as clothing and electronics.

“We haven’t linked her to all 37 checks yet,” Mott said.

The police are waiting for other checks that may have been written to come in.

Abney’s arrest lifted a huge burden off the congregation of First Baptist, Blythe said.

“I’m certainly pleased about the efforts of our police department and any other agencies involved,” said the pastor, who also is a Richmond City Commissioner. “We’re still trying to ascertain the full extent of our losses, but we’re glad she is off the street and no one else is being harmed.”

Blythe said the church still is trying to determine what connection, if any, Abney may have had to the church.

“I didn’t know the young lady,” he said. “We’re trying to find a connection somewhere. We don’t know how she accessed the checks.”

Police also are investigating how Abney came into possession of the checks.

As the church reviews its situation, and learns whether it will get any relief from the debt Abney allegedly accrued, Blythe said he knows what he told his congregation on Sunday is true.

“It’s going to be all right,” he said. “Whatever situation we’re in, we know we’ll be able to recover.”

Abney remains in jail in lieu of a $2,500 bond. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison.

Lorie Love Hailey can be reached at editor@ or 624-6690.

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