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South Hall church pays off bank note, burns it during service
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The Rev. Charles Pirkle sets the loan note ablaze as members Charles Banks and Alice Pruett lowered it into a metal can. Also looking on is Lorene Veal, who has served as church historian since 1950.

Here’s a message to churches entrenched in debt from tiny Friendship Community Baptist Church in South Hall: Miracles do happen.

Raising $100,000 in 30 days to put down on a $475,000 note. Done eight years ago, during the Great Recession.

Paying off the balance of the note, or $375,000, by its May 29 maturity date. Done.

And to celebrate that milestone, the church of about 50 members at 3784 Friendship Circle, off Friendship Road/Ga. 347, held a note-burning ceremony during Sunday morning’s service.

“God had a whole lot of hand in this,” said church member Glenda Smith while recounting the events. “God has certainly blessed our church. ... I’m so very, very proud to be a part of this church.”

“Everything has been done by good, wonderful and faithful members that we’re so proud of,”  said the pastor, the Rev. Charles Pirkle.

“Lorene, we made it,” music director Gary Bailey said to Lorene Veal, the church’s historian since 1950.

Members sang hymns, took up an offering and gave testimonies, but the moment everyone was waiting for came in the middle of the hourlong service.

A metal can was placed on the floor in front of the pulpit, and Pirkle used a lighter to set ablaze the mortgage note proclaiming “Paid in Full.”

“C’mon, burn,” Pirkle said.

Applause broke out in the church as members Charles Banks and Alice Pruett dropped the fiery note into the can.

“You can warm your hands,” Pirkle said with a chuckle, as flames licked up from the can.

Times weren’t always as good at the small brick church that traces back to Friendship

Baptist Church, founded in 1844.

A church split resulted in the new congregation buying property nearby and members putting up Friendship Baptist as collateral on their loan.

Members who didn’t join the new church were allowed to continue using the old church for worship services until January 2009, when “we were told we could no longer use the building and had one week to find something else,” according to church history.

“The locks were changed; we lost our building,” the history states.

Another local church allowed the congregation to use its building. Then, members heard that their old church was going to be sold to another congregation.

Friendship Community Baptist had wanted to buy the property previously, but those efforts fell short. After months of contemplation, church members made another offer on the property and this time it was accepted.

“It’s all about us just trying to get home,” Bailey said at the time.

The church asked for donations from local residents and had events such as a cake sale to raise money.

“Most of it has been members, and we sent letters out to people that have association with the church and have gone to the church in the past, have family members buried here,” Bailey said. “A lot of our resources have come from the community.”

At Sunday’s service, Bailey asked those who participated in the fundraiser to stand up.

“We’ve got this many more (members) who have gone on to be with the Lord during the eight years we’ve been trying to get this paid for,” he said.

Bailey read a letter from one of the members, Carol Bannister, who has since moved to Savannah. Bannister recalled a time when members had “prayer and empty pockets.”

“Everyone was involved and needed to make this happen,” she said. “It takes everyone in a church to do God’s will. Some can give money while others give time, and God bless each sacrifice.”

The Rev. James McNeal, who returned as pastor during those early days of the loan, also spoke at Sunday’s service.

He began by recalling other past, great deeds at the church, such as adding a fellowship hall and paving the dirt parking lot that was mud “the first Sunday I was here.”

“God blessed these people who got into their pocketbooks,” McNeal said. “And God is still blessing.”

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