Church pays off mortgage in full

Last Sunday’s worship service at Community Baptist Church in Montoursville was 10 years to the day from the first sermon held in the building, finished in 2004, but there was another cause for celebration.

“Let’s burn a mortgage!” said Pastor Mike Wright.

The church was celebrating paying off its $1.4 million mortgage, taken out in 2001 when construction on the building began, and like the two mortgages on the previous church and its additions, it was paid off several months early.

“It’s a true blessing,” said church member Chris Santalucia.

The church has been a fixture in Montoursville since its founding in 1950, on Jordan and Montour streets across from where Wal-Mart now is located. Since then, it saw a larger church built in 1958 on Loyalsock Avenue, with a new sanctuary and fellowship hall added in 1978.

The present church, at 1853 Route 87, completed in 2004, is about 2 miles north of the former location and has an average Sunday attendance of 425, Santalucia said.

Sunday’s service was full to capacity, with everyone in attendance excited to see the mortgage burning, including Pastor Mike Wright, who has been at the church since 2010.

Three church leaders spoke Sunday on the mission of the church and how it has progressed over the years.

Greg Sanford, assistant elder chairman, spoke about the church’s past and its founding.

“The Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of Lord’s Covenant went across,” Sanford said, reading from the Book of Joshua.

He likened it to the beginning of the church and its first building, and the hope of its congregation that it would stand the test of time.

“‘These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever,'” he said.

Wright spoke on the present status of the church, telling the story of how Jesus appointed Peter as the “rock” of the church and how “all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”

“That’s our mission here,” he said. “Our mission is to be that rock, to tell of the glory of God, which we do here in this building.”

When Wright was finished, he stepped to the center of the stage with Bill Camp, head of the deacon board; Dan Watson, the church’s treasurer; and head elder Harry Boyer.

With Camp and Boyer each holding the handle of a metal bucket, Wright held up a lighter to the paper copy of the mortgage – and as it caught flame, cheers and applause erupted from the congregation.

Wright held the mortgage with a pair of tongs and let it burn away almost to nothing, before letting the last few shreds of charred paper drop into the bucket.

Then it was church elder Guy Heilenman’s turn to speak on the future of the church and its continuing mission.

The church members “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house,” he said, reading from the Book of 1st Peter.

“This is our spiritual house, that we are blessed to have, through the hard work and dedication of our members,” he said, noting the mission work that the church is involved with.

The church is very mission-oriented, Santalucia said, giving 25 percent of its proceeds to foreign ministries and mission work.

After the service, the congregation filed into the fellowship hall, where a luncheon was served.

It was a cheerful end to the service, fitting in well with the general theme of the day.

“We’re celebrating not just a mortgage burning today,” Wright said. “We’re celebrating God’s provision.”