Once upon a time there was a Unitarian Universalist (UU) who was enticed to visit a local church in January 2011 by her sister, who was already a member. The UU had several years earlier introduced her sister to the UU religion at another UU church in Santa Monica, and her sister had found a UU church close to home where she became active and involved. When the UU arrived at her sister’s church, she liked what she saw but, upon attending her first congregational meeting in February (the very next month), was somewhat concerned about the bite being taken out of the budget by the mortgage payments.

After being elected at the same meeting to the position of Fund Custodian of the church’s investments (talk about being recruited early!), she began to inquire to determine if there was any interest in paying down the mortgage faster in order to pay it off early. Several years passed with only minimal interest in this idea, and the UU became involved in other areas, including joining a Small Group Ministry where she raised the mortgage pay-off idea (and even talked of buying one of those spiral coin funnels where you can watch your coin go round and round before being deposited) and being elected to the Board only two years into serving a three-year term as Fund Custodian (the church believed in promoting from within!)

trophyWhile serving on the Board as Treasurer, the UU broached the idea of an early pay- off of the mortgage, and the Board was cautiously supportive, suggesting she recruit volunteers and chair a committee to study the issue. Remember, this is a UU church where meeting and discussing is a key component of the religion. So, she recruited four other volunteers, two of whom thought they liked the idea and two of whom thought they didn’t like the idea.

At the first meeting they decided to do research, and they each took an area to study—how other churches had dealt with this issue, any resources or guidance available from the district (PSWD) and national (UUA) organizations, modeling various options using Excel, and interviewing a number of UUs with experience in this area. After coming back together and determining that the concept was viable, they decided to complete further studies by interviewing members of the congregation to determine the level of support, both conceptually and monetarily. They found a strong level of support in both areas, and, after discussing the results of their study, they determined that the idea of an early pay-off made eminent sense. Additionally, each of the committee members volunteered to back up their conviction with personal commitments of monetary support towards the mortgage pay down.

Of course, before proceeding further, they wisely decided to present their research and conclusions to the Board for due consideration, understanding that the Board has a broader understanding of the congregation and potential issues. The Board debated the idea afterwards and voted to authorize the committee to take the idea to the congregation at its next meeting in February (three years after the UU’s first congregational meeting at the church). The congregation considered the idea, and also voted to authorize the committee to move forward, this time with an initiative to seek donations from the members as well as to use up to $140,000 of the investment funds to pay off the mortgage early.

The committee joined forces with the canvass co-chairs and all the other canvassers to help lead the congregation to a successful one-on-one annual canvass and mortgage initiative, with over $166,000 in mortgage commitments made by the members. After completion of the canvass, a new Burn-the-Mortgage task force was recruited by the UU, with two other members to help see the initiative through to a successful conclusion. They have sent personalized notes to all folks who made a commitment to thank them for their help in making the early pay off of the mortgage a reality!

To date, donations of $174,745 have been received from almost all of the amazing members and friends of this congregation! When added to the $140,000 from the investment funds and supplemented by the regular monthly payments of $4,385, the mortgage was reduced quickly from $452,802.03 at the end of August 2013 when the MRI committee started its work to a much reduced balance of $26,409 at the end of February 2016.

With the goal of paying off the mortgage by the end of June 2016 in sight, it is appropriate to reflect on what it means to own our own building, free and clear of any liens. It means we can return to having a budget that is in the black, which opens up all kinds of possibilities for programming, staff, building maintenance, community outreach and the like. Burning the Mortgage has been achievable since so many participated by volunteering their time and energy as well as by contributing financially.

Many, many thanks to all those who joined in this effort including:

  • Mortgage Reduction Initiative (MRI) committee: Leslie Reuter, Greg Buesing, Barbara Moore, Phil Davis, and Chuck Moore
  • Burn-the-Mortgage Task Force: Leslie Reuter, Pat Lyon, and Don Ordway
  • One-on-One Canvass Co-chairs: Lynne Masuhara and Greg Buesing
  • All those members and friends who donated to this mortgage reduction initiative as well as to the original capital campaign that allowed the church to build its current sanctuary, offices, and classrooms in 1996.
  • And last, but not least, my sister Andrea Reuter, who brought me to Emerson

Humorously submitted in gratitude for your help in making a dream come true!



Your Treasurer, former Fund Custodian, former chair of the MRI committee, and head of the Burn-the-Mortgage Task Force—Leslie Reuter