An elderly Gisborne woman's handbag was stolen while she took holy communion at a city church on Sunday and other church parishioners have been warned about it.

The woman was attending a service at Holy Trinity Church when her bag was stolen by someone sitting in a pew behind her.

"She came up to receive communion and when she returned to her seat, her handbag was gone," said the Reverend Phil Dymock.

"She brought it to our attention at the end of the service and we called police."


Rev Dymock said the elderly parishioner was distressed about it.

"Her bag contained some cash, her car and house keys, and all her cards.

"Fortunately, she had a spare set of car keys, but she has had to get the locks on the doors at her home replaced, along with all her cards."

Rev Dymock said it was an extremely disappointing thing to happen.

"Theft can happen anywhere and church is obviously not a sacrosanct place for some people.

"I did not recognise the man as a regular church-goer and it would probably be wise for other church parishioners to keep an eye on strangers in their churches."

A description of the man was given to police and they have an inquiry under way.