Members and local residents gathered around as the fire burned and the acrid smoke rose from its sanctuary, but this was no somber occasion nor was the building in jeopardy. The fire were the flames emerging from the burning of its $500,000 mortgage which the church recently paid in full and celebrated the occasion during a special mortgage burning ceremony yesterday.
The faithful of Vine Memorial Baptist stood as the mortgage papers burned to nothing and the financial burdens of paying the hefty debt went up in smoke, financially liberating the church from its burdensome obligations.
“It is so exciting,” said Trustee Board Chairperson Marian Langdon.
Langdon said that it all began 12 years ago when Pastor Emeritus James S. Allen had the vision to remodel and restore the church. A development committee was formed, and extensive renovations were made.
“We ended up taking out a mortgage in 2008 to pay for those renovations, $550,000.”
The church was restored and critical repairs were made to its existing structure, including the church’s pipes, she said.
“The miracle is that in eight years, we were only down to a balance of only $486,000. The interest on the principle was really eating up our money,” said Langdon.
“A committee was formed again, and we went to the congregation and told them that it was really time to do something bigger on this mortgage.”
The members of Vine Memorial Baptist weren’t slack in their response.
“They went into their pocket books, they went into their savings, they asked their families and gifts began to come from everywhere,” she said.
“The miracle is that, in the last three years, from Aug. 15 of 2015 to Aug. 14 of 2018 we paid off 446,000. Not a penny did we have to borrow, it came from the congregation.”
Darlene Suggs, president of the Deaconess Board, described the feat as “very impressive.”
“In order to get the mortgage paid off, we had to motivate our ministries to want to support, to want to give and our pastor emeritus, Pastor Allen, and our interim pastor [Pastor Ralph E. Blanks] also kept motivating us to love one another and be kind to one another,” said Suggs.
It was this focus on collective love and fraternity that moved the church from the pulpit throughout the congregation, to keep going she said.
“So, it was the motivation of the leadership because if you’re not motivated you can’t motivate anyone else,” said Suggs.
As the ministry leaders rallied to the cause, so did the individual members of the ministry. Together, they accomplished what few churches of comparable size have managed to accomplish.
“I’m very excited to be here for the mortgage burning, it’s the first one for me. I’m excited about, the congregation’s excited about it, everyone’s excited,” Suggs said.
“It means a great deal to me,” said Deacon Barry Robinson, who chairs the Deacon Board.
“Within three years, we accomplished this goal and in those three years, that’s when the Rev. Allen retired,” said Robinson.
The church was then left without a senior pastor and members of the church filled in the gap until Blanks was elected to fill the position of interim pastor while the pastoral selection resumes.
“The progress that we made in those three years and the accomplishment of paying off that debt was phenomenal. As Deaconess Suggs said, they [the congregation] gave from their pockets,” he said.
Not only did the church pay off the momentous debt in a relatively brief period of time but they also managed to do so without borrowing money from other sources or major fundraising projects. They themselves dug deep into their pockets and made personal sacrifices to pay the mortgage for their place of worship.
Members of the church stood to their feet as a visibly moved Allen lit the fire and burned the mortgage.
Some cried tears of joy, others exclaimed praise to God and the people applauded as the fire burned and the smoke rose to the heavens.
“It is certainly no small matter. It is a great accomplishment in the journey of faith of Vine Memorial Baptist Church. Having started from humble beginnings and having moved to this state, it’s just another celebration of God’s opening doors and providing for us along the way,” said Blanks after the ceremonial service.
“It puts the icing on the cake and the culmination of the church’s 86th anniversary,” said Blanks in reference to the church’s 86th anniversary last week.