Since October of 2014, I've had the pleasure of working with a dedicated group of individuals at Home Moravian Church who recognized the importance of incorporating planned giving into the Church's year-round stewardship ministry. At our first meeting, the conversation centered around the following questions:
- Does the Church have policies for receiving bequests, etc.? If so, how are they available to members?
- Does the Church want to encourage members to give to existing funds or create any new funds?
- Who are the members who have left planned gifts to the Church whose stories should be told?
- How will planned giving fit into the Church's year-round stewardship ministry?
Over the next few months, the group worked to answer these questions while the Trustees reviewed and approved endowment and investment guidelines to ensure planned gifts would be properly cared and accounted for in perpetuity. We spent time discussing how to make the planned giving emphasis more than just a program that happened in 2015; it needed to become a permanent part of the stewardship conversation and not just something that got a lot of focus and energy for a few months and then faded away. As we spoke more about how we are led and called by God to give of our resources (even beyond our lifetimes), and as the group reflected on the role the Church has had in their lives, the name "Forever Home" bubbled up. We agreed that we want the Church to be around forever, and we spoke frankly about how, upon our deaths, we will all be called forever home. We also discussed how if everyone includes the Church in their estate plans, it will have a much stronger future! Thus we were excited and ready to embark on Forever Home: Stewarding God's Gifts in Perpetuity, Home Church's more intentional and defined planned giving ministry.
Recognizing that the Church's ministries may evolve over time, we felt that it was important to encourage members to consider unrestricted planned gifts. The Trustees approved the creation of the "Forever Home Fund" to be used to enhance the Church's mission and meet its current and future needs.
Once we had guidelines and fund descriptions in place, we worked to create a brochure that would be both an educational piece and an invitation. We also talked about how important it would be to make sure everyone realized that planned gifts don't take the place of the generous financial support members provide through the annual congregational stewardship campaign.
In February John Elster, head of the planned giving team, and I spoke during worship to introduce people to Forever Home. We mailed the brochure to all households in March, and continued to provide planned giving information to members through articles in the Church's newsletter, on its website, and on Facebook, as well as by speaking during worship. We wanted everyone to hear how the Church has benefited from a planned gift, so I met with Rick Sides, one of the Church's ministers, to talk about someone whose generosity had had an impact in the life of the Church. Rick told me about Erna Spach, a Home Church member for 50 years who bequeathed her estate to the Church in 1990. From her gift the Spach Study Grant Fund was created as education was very important to Edna; in fact, she paid for both her brother and sister to go to college. Since 1991 over 100 students have been awarded Spach grants totaling nearly $310,000. Edna's story was shared during worship in late May and in the Church's June newsletter.
This fall, recognizing that planned giving information is helpful to us at certain ages, we created and mailed brochures about estate planning to Church members who were 55 to 69, and pieces about charitable gift annuities to members 70 and older. Also this fall, Rev. Sides spoke during worship about why Forever Home is so important. He said, "I know how much God wants our life with him to grow and to help serve this world into which we are sent on behalf of Jesus Christ. We have been in mission and ministry for Christ here in this place for over 240 years. With open and generous hearts, and always the promise of God's good gifts to us, I pray that together we'll help Home Church be in ministry for at least another 240 years. I think we will, and that thought gives me reassurance and the desire to do all I can to help. I hope and pray that all of us feel the same way!"
Throughout this effort, the Moravian Ministries Foundation has been receiving response cards from Home Church members interested in learning more about planned giving, in speaking with someone about a gift, or who wanted the Church to know they had included it in their plans.