Burning the Mortgage at Wedgewood UMC

Last Sunday I was privileged to participate in burning the mortgage at Wedgewood United Methodist Church in Akron, Ohio.  I was the Senior Pastor at Wedgewood for 21 years.  We worked together to grow the church in numbers, ministry, and finally, by an addition that doubled the size of the physical church.

In order to break ground for the addition, the church was required to raise 1/3 the amount in cash.  Through great faithfulness and sacrifice, the people at Wedgewood raised $350,000 in three years.  We ended up taking out a loan of $854,000 by the time the addition was finished.  The addition has a Family Life Center, large kitchen, new offices, and three big rooms for Sunday School or other uses.

Wedgewood United Methodist Church

All of that was very exciting, but the best part of the addition was seeing it used.  I will always remember the night Pastor Joe Burkhardt came to be interviewed by the Staff-Parish Committee, to see if he would be a good fit for the congregation when I retired.  The church was so full of activity that we had a hard time finding a suitable room for the interview!  I stayed for nine years after the addition was completed.  When I retired, the congregation gave me the gift of naming the Family Life Center the “Hartley Family Life Center.”

Retirement Dinner in the Hartley Family Life Center

The Wedgewood congregation has remained very active in ministry and mission since I retired.  Although it took them a little while to adjust to Pastor Joe (we have very different ministry styles), he has now been there for nine years and they love him.  But continuing to pay the $6,000 every month on the mortgage has been a huge challenge.

The church, however has risen to the challenge.  In fact, through their generosity and selflessness, they pushed through and finished paying off the note two years early!  I continue to be impressed by the way the congregation finds creative ways to fulfill their mission through the Holy Spirit.  When they dream something, they find a way to do it.

Sunday was a day of celebration.  I got to preach and chose as my text Joel 2:28-29.  I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.  

During the sermon I told the story of dreamers and visionaries in the congregation.  People who didn’t let little things like size or money get in the way of building God’s kingdom.  I celebrated the building but reminded people that the church was more than a physical place.  I challenged them to continue to do visionary ministry into the future.

Burning the mortgage

After communion, everyone went outside for burning the mortgage.  It was such a humid morning that the papers were reluctant to burn.  But, with a little encouragement they were soon ashes.  Then we went inside to enjoy a meal together and continue the celebration.

I didn’t get much chance to eat because I was too busy talking to people.  It was wonderful to see so many people who had worked hard to bring this moment about.  Some people who moved away came back for the celebration.  Others, who no longer attend Wedgewood, came back because they were part of making the addition a reality.  Between the laughter, the memories, and catching up on everyone’s lives, it was a joyful occasion.

Me and Pam Varga
Logan and Nick Varga
Tom and Lori Oliver
Me and Krissa Reilly

I was so busy during the morning and afternoon that I didn’t take any pictures.  Fortunately, a few other people did take some pictures.  Of course, you can watch the whole service here.  My sermon starts at minute 48.

I am so thankful for the Wedgewood congregation and for Pastor Joe inviting me to be part of the burning of the mortgage celebration.  I know that this group of faithful and visionary people will continue to be a force in ministry for a long time to come.