By Debbie Adams
Vinton Wesleyan Church celebrated a momentous occasion on March 13 with the burning of their mortgage—having made the final payment on January 10.
This wasn’t their first mortgage burning ceremony.
The church had its beginnings almost 88 years ago in September 1934 at a tent revival in downtown Vinton on Pollard Street—just a couple of blocks from its current location.
In 1936, the church bought the property where the church now stands on the corner of Jefferson and Poplar Streets. They constructed what was referred to as a “basement church,” which was not underground, but would serve as the foundation for the rest of the building.
That structure was dedicated in July 1938. The building was one big room, partitioned off with wires and curtains, with benches for seating. Longtime member Darrell English says that if you weren’t enthralled with the Sunday School lesson in your own class, you could lean against the curtain and hear the one next door.
In 1941, church members sold Bibles to raise money for a sanctuary above the basement church. In those difficult economic times, “a couple whose house mortgage was due at the end of the month would give what they had saved for their own mortgage to pay the church mortgage,” which was due mid-month. The congregation would then “work hard to get them their payment before their own mortgage was due.”
The church burned that original mortgage in just four short years by 1942.
In 1949 the church dedicated a new auditorium, complete with Hammond organ and chimes and continued to grow steadily. The church purchased more property and in the 1970’s added a new educational wing, which included a fellowship hall, kitchen, pastor’s study, and Sunday School classrooms–and a new parking lot. In the 1980’s more property was purchased at the corner of Cleveland and Poplar.
In 1993, a new sanctuary was dedicated. The church sold pews, windows, benches, light fixtures, and even the sound system to members of the congregation to raise money for the construction. There was adversity to overcome with the collapse of the new sanctuary while under construction. When high winds felled the framework, “the congregation didn’t give up; they pulled together and started over.”
That’s the mortgage the church was burning on March 13, 2022. The ceremony was joyous, with many prayers of thanks for “what God has done for us” and the generosity of present and past members. The service was filled with music from children, guest pianist Becky Reynolds, and music leader Joyce Rodriguez. There were guest speakers in person and via video.
Darrell English, age 95, the first and only building fund chairman for the church, said that “God has blessed us immensely.” The church had 58 members when construction was proposed. They were turned down by the first bank they asked for a loan because of their small membership; finally, one financial institution stepped up and approved a loan. The church has never missed even one payment in the years since. English said that he had always hoped he would live long enough to see the loan paid off and now he has. The church expressed their appreciation to him for his faithfulness and for the prayer warrior he has been.
Sharon Perkins read notes from her mother, June, who was on the building committee, reminiscing about visiting other churches to come up with a design for the Vinton Wesleyan sanctuary. She talked about how the emblems were selected for the stained-glass window—the lamb, fish, dove, and Bible–and watching the steeple going up.
Treasurer Susan Stump talked about times of “feast and famine,” praying each month to come up with the funds for the mortgage payment based on pledges from the congregation, estate gifts, and small donations which added up.
Fran Brown, wife of the late Dr. Flavy Brown who pastored Vinton Wesleyan from 1985 to 1997, spoke about the growth of the church over the years, the need for a new and more accessible sanctuary, and determining how to pay for it. She also recalled the windstorm which blew down the walls, but “God’s people stayed faithful.”
“God makes a way when we think there is no way,” she said. “Many in the church sacrificed.” She mentioned a ‘tiny unassuming lady” from the congregation who lived up the street and never missed a service, summoning Dr. Brown to her home, reaching far back in a cabinet, and pulling out an old canning jar of coins which she donated to the church—“all that she had.”
Vinton Mayor Brad Grose attended the mortgage burning and thanked Vinton Wesleyan for “being a beacon in this community,” and sending out disciples to spread the Word. He talked about the freedom that comes from being a Christian and the freedom that comes from being out of debt.
District Superintendent Greg Reynolds congratulated Vinton Wesleyan on their accomplishment and recalled that he sang at the dedication service in 1993. He described the continuing expansion of the church as “pleasing to God, expressing your love for God, and giving glory to Him.”
Pastor Rodriguez, who has been the Senior Pastor at Vinton Wesleyan since 2004, delivered a brief message in which he shared the contents of a letter from Dr. Brown concerning the campaign to build the sanctuary in 1993 as “touching our community for Jesus Christ. We must arise and build—not with equal giving but with equal sacrifice.”
He concluded by saying that God is not finished with Vinton Wesleyan. “Quitting is not on the radar. We have more ministries to do; people need to be reached; there is more Kingdom work to be done. Vinton Wesleyan needs to be at her best when the world is at her worst—for the glory of God.”