If your congregation has paid off a mortgage or is close to doing so, congratulations! Paying off a mortgage is a major accomplishment, and will help your church move forward in new ways. Consider celebrating the generosity of your congregation and your excellent stewardship with a traditional or informal mortgage burning service.
Traditional Mortgage Burning Service
Many congregations choose to integrate a church mortgage burning celebration into a traditional church service. This approach gives you the simplicity of fitting an extra element into your existing worship structure.
The Worship Service
Depending on what the mortgage portion of the service will entail, you may need to do some special setup of your sanctuary. That could mean some extra decoration or rearranging seating around a central table that holds the mortgage and other symbolic items.
Starting with a traditional hymn or song focused on praise will help set the tone. If you do multiple songs in your introduction, consider mixing songs from when the church was founded with today's worship music.
From there, you can say a prayer, declare the joyous occasion of the mortgage ending, and move into your traditional service. If you like, you can focus the scripture readings and sermon on God's faithfulness or the people's generosity.
Burning the Mortgage
Of course, you don't want to burn the original mortgage. You should instead keep your original documentation safe, and burn a copy or a document that represents the mortgage.
You can set up a safe burning location indoors or move the congregation outside for the burning itself.
You can structure the mortgage burning with prayers and songs that represent your faith tradition. You may want to consider inviting congregation members or leaders to share their memories of the church's history.
Closing the Service
Once the ceremony is complete, everyone can return to their seats for the closing of the service. You may choose to close the service in the usual way without any additional activities. Songs and prayers of praise and thanksgiving are especially appropriate.
After the Service
Consider hosting a fellowship meal or other activity after the mortgage burning service. When planning this part of the service, you'll need to decide who will be in charge of arranging for setup, food, and cleanup. Planning a potluck with a sign-up sheet for people to specify what they are bringing can simplify things.
Informal Mortgage Burning Service
Instead of including your mortgage burning ceremony in a church service, you may decide to have separate, informal festivities. A Saturday night celebration is a great option, for instance.
For an informal service, you have a lot of flexibility. You can choose how long you want the ceremony to be, what should be involved, and how to celebrate afterward.
In many cases, it's simplest to hold the event at the church and include several of the elements described in the traditional service. Music from a range of time frames during your church's history can be a great start, and prayers and declarations of praise can follow.
There can be a time of sharing stories about the church, followed by the burning ceremony itself. Be sure to choose a safe location, either indoors or out. Once the burning has finished, you can close with additional songs and prayers.
At an informal service, you can have treats and coffee afterward. This gives everyone a chance to mingle and share memories and joy with each other. If you choose to end near a meal time, a potluck could be a great option as well.
Easy-to-Follow Planning Template
Whether you choose to include your mortgage burning in a Sunday morning service or create an informal celebration instead, using a pre-formatted outline to plan your event can be a big help. Click the image below to download a free printable template to use as you plan your own festivities. If you need help opening the document, these tips may be helpful.
The template is fully customizable - just click anywhere in the text to edit, then save and print. Or, print a blank template as-is to fill in the details of your own service. Share your completed planning document with other church leaders to help make sure the event goes smoothly.
Examples of Church Mortgage Burning Services
Many congregations have had church mortgage burning services and publicized them in local newspapers. This is a great way to draw attention to your organization's success and gain positive publicity.
Lord of Life Lutheran Church
In Rapid Valley, South Dakota, a Lutheran congregation celebrated being mortgage-free in 2015. The mortgage was paid off after a concerted effort by the congregation and leadership to reduce a large debt balance. They worked hard to meet their goal and celebrated the joy of reaching the end.
Rather than using their pews, congregation members were seated around tables with decorations, wine, and bread. The service was traditional but included a mortgage burning component. A meal and celebration wrapped up the festivities, with former members, pastors, and other key people attending.
Effort United Methodist Church
In Pennsylvania, Effort United Methodist Church celebrated finishing off their mortgage in 2012. An article in the local newspaper shared many details of the service, including hymns chosen and who was involved. As you plan your event, you may want to include those details in your own ceremony.
Effort UMC gives a great example of safely burning a mortgage indoors. A metal fire pit was brought in and set before the altar to serve as a safe receptacle for the burning papers. Former pastors and current members shared messages and memories, and song was a major part of the event.
Ebenezer Baptist Church
In 2013, Ebenezer Baptist Church posted a video of their mortgage burning ceremony. The five-minute clips shows that while the ceremony may not go perfectly smoothly, you can keep going and enjoy the moment. It took some persistence to get the mortgage papers to catch fire, but the congregation continued to sing, clap, and celebrate as the ceremony concluded. They used a simple metal pan to catch the ashes during their indoor service, and water was nearby.
Enjoy Your Freedom!
Paying off a church mortgage is a major accomplishment. It's not just an ending, however. It's the beginning of a new era in your church's history. What will you do? However you choose to move forward, this celebration will mark a key moment that you'll never forget.