First United Methodist celebrates with mortgage burning event

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The First United Methodist Church, which traces its origins back 164 years in North Attleborough, will be celebrating the paying off of the mortgage of its current site on the hill with a mortgage-burning campfire and marshmallow roast Friday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m.

All are welcome, but especially those who have ever passed through the doors, or visited the grounds of the Church on the Hill, also known locally as the pumpkin church and the sledding church, located at the corner of Routes 1 and 120. The church’s current treasurer, Lynne Silver, signed the final payment on the loan.

I think a lot of people drive by here every day, and are comforted by the fact that we are here,” said Silver. “Just like the generations of our congregation before us, we want to continue to share Jesus’ love from this place with our community as best we can.”

The church was built in 1963 when the two sister owners of the Arns apple orchard at 20 Hoppin Hill decided to sell the land because they felt their “father would like a church on top of the hill.” The laying of the cornerstone of the original structure took place on April 28, 1963 while the choir sang “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

Originally founded as the Free Evangelical Church, members met in Barden’s Hall until 1870 when a building was dedicated at the southeast corner of North Washington and East Streets. That building would serve the congregation throughout the switch to the Methodist Conference in 1907 and through 18 pastors. The building there included visits from Massachusetts Governor Frank G. Allen and housed an organ donated to the congregation by Andrew J. Carnegie. The category five Hurricane of New England in 1938 weakened the church steeple and it had to be removed. The bell of the steeple was removed and stored – the same bell that currently resides in the garden on the left side of the front entrance at today’s location.

The congregation of 225 members, under pastor Rev. Ray I. Martin, spearheaded the design of the current Sanctuary between 1961 and 1963. In 1986, Rev. Dr. John E. N. Knight became the 22nd minister to the congregation, and under his direction, an educational wing, extended sanctuary and fellowship hall, later named for him, were dedicated on Dec. 3, 1989. The congregation of 329 members and non-members pledged $160,000 toward building the $500,000 addition. However, much of those funds would never come to fruition.

By 1990, the New England economy was struggling and the first budget deficit for First UMC was presented at the annual Church Conference. The congregation had fallen to 54 pledging tithers, and Dr. Knight and his wife Hazel decided to retire from the area. As Rev. John L. Camp began his pastorate on the hill, one of his first motions was to erect a large sign at the front of the Church grounds.

The Church in recent decades underwent several mortgage refinances, before finally making its final payment on the property in February of this year. It is currently served by a trio of lay ministers: Certified Lay Minister Tom Senerchia, Susan Ulicnik, and Craig Brown, Sr. This marks the first time in the history of the Commonwealth West Conference of the New England Conference that a United Methodist Church has been served by a Ministry Team.

This building continues to be a place of respite and welcome for many people in our area,” said Joan Hutson, one of the congregation’s oldest members who continues to be active on several committees. “We thought it was important to reflect upon the commitment of all our past members and friends who gave their time and money to build God’s house here on the hill in North Attleboro. We look forward to our future.”

The fire will be on the Church’s front lawn at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. In the event of inclement weather, it will be held inside the Narthex. Worship services are at 10:40 a.m. each Sunday morning.