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Holy Smoke: Burning The Church Mortgage



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Nearly 100 members of Newtown Congregational Church shrugged off the rain last weekend to celebrate a decidedly American custom: a mortgage burning party.

While some congregants stepped outside the church’s upper rear entrance, others gathered at windows to watch the spectacle, when the Reverend Matthew Crebbin handed the church’s mortgage off to Peg Forbell and NCC Moderator Robert Hall. With Mr Hall holding the papers, Mrs Forbell used a grill lighter to set the document aflame.

“Peg is our financial secretary,” Rev Crebbin said, explaining why Mrs Forbell had been given the honor of starting the celebratory fire. “She has been the lead person in receiving and tracking our mortgage payments for years.”

The Rev Crebbin said this week the opportunity to burn the mortgage came after an unexpected gift was received by the church recently.

“We had made a commitment during our campaign, in our 300th anniversary year, to focus on paying off the mortgage, because that had been such a priority for a number of people,” he said Tuesday morning. “We made that commitment, and had generous pledges and support from people, so we were able to take the mortgage down, from over $600,000 to about $250,000, just in the last 18 months or so.”

NCC celebrated its tercentennial in 2014, with special events running from January until October. Running through those events was a capital campaign, in which NCC members offered their annual pledges to financially support the town’s oldest active church. Members were asked to reach a little deeper into their pockets during the anniversary year, and if possible to add a little more than usual to their annual pledges.

“This was really thanks to a lot of folks and their support,” Rev Crebbin said of the large amount of money that was promised and then paid to the church.

Within the past few months, the church received what he called “a generous gift.”

“We had an anonymous donor who just wanted to see that paid off,” he said, referring to the balance on the mortgage for 14 West Street. “They made a contribution to pay off the rest.”

With the surprise donation, the additional pledges that have already been made by church members will still aid the church. Over $200,000 has been promised to the church by its members, according to the senior pastor.

“Now we’re able to make some capital improvements and do other ministry with those funds,” said Rev Crebbin.

“We’ve put a bunch of things on hold while we were focused on the mortgage,” he continued, “but now we’re going to be able to do a number of improvements.”

Among the first will be an upgrading of the sound system in the church’s sanctuary and the replacement of the floor in its gathering hall, called The Great Room. Both projects were approved on May 31. After the mortgage burning, the church held its already-scheduled annual meeting. Members approved the two projects at that time, said Rev Crebbin.

 The meeting was held once everyone moved back inside the building, and dried off.

“A lot of people waited and watched us from indoors,” said Rev Crebbin, who joined Mrs Forbell and Mr Hall outdoors for the event. “But I told everyone: not rain, or anything else, was going to keep us from burning that mortgage.”

The Reverend Matt Crebbin holds mortgage paperwork over a portable fire pit Sunday morning. A little bit of rain was not going to delay the ceremonial burning of the church mortgage.
Peg Forbell and Robert Hall, both longtime members who "had each committed to see that the mortgage would be paid off," according to the Reverend Matthew Crebbin, were part of a mortgage burning celebration at Newtown Congregational Church on a rainy May 31.
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