Posted: Jan 9

The Blessing of Legacy Stewardship

By Bruce Rockwell

Does your parish have a legacy stewardship program? 

leavealegacy---sm.jpgCountless Episcopalians, very faithful in worship who have served in leadership positions, die and leave nothing to support the mission and ministry of the church to which they belonged for so many years.  Why, you may ask?  Because it did not occur to them.  And, because the church never asked.

The rubric on Page 445 in the Book of Common Prayer encourages the church to be involved in legacy stewardship with these words: 

The Minister of the Congregation is directed to instruct the people, from time to time, about the duty of Christian parents to make prudent provision for the well-being of their families, and of all persons to make wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.

If we are to be good stewards of the temporal goods that God has entrusted to us, we will have a will that directs how we wish those things to be distributed at our death.  Having an orderly and up-to-date will is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our families.

And what about leaving a bequest to the church that has been our spiritual home for the many years of our lives?  Or we might invest in a life income gift, such as a charitable gift annuity, that will provide income to us and support the mission and ministry of our church when we die.  Or, we might make the church one of the beneficiaries of our IRA account or 401(k) plan, or of a life insurance policy.  There are many ways in which we can offer God a gift of thanksgiving at our death that will support the work of the church after we are no longer here.

So, does your parish have a plan to encourage people to consider these legacy stewardship issues?  If not, allow me to suggest how you might develop such a program that will raise the issue of legacy stewardship and encourage people to consider including the church in their estate plans.

A Legacy Society or Fellowship

Consider forming a legacy society that will consist of people who have already remembered the church in their estate plans.  But, you say, we don't know who those people are.  Well, have you ever asked that question on your pledge card?  If you have, you have a head start since you have the ability to identify people who have already taken this step.  And, if not, find a way to ask, in a low key manner, who has remembered the church in their estate plans.

Then invite those people to become the charter member of your legacy fellowship.  You might call this group the Legacy Fellowship or the Arbor Society.  One parish that had just celebrated its 200th birthday called their legacy group the Third Century Society.  Find the name that is right for your parish.  Publicize the formation of your new legacy group and make members of the parish aware of who the members are. Tell everyone in the parish how they can become members as well.   All it takes is to identify themselves as having remembered the church in their estate plans in some way.

Once your legacy stewardship group is formed, create a brochure about the group, its aims, and how one can become a member.  Suggest the many ways in which the church can be included in their estate plans.  I’ve already identified the most popular.  The Episcopal Church Foundation can provide assistance if your diocese does not have a resource person to assist you.

Have an Annual Reception for those who are Members. 

It is a way to recognize and thank them for their planned gifts.  Some parishes have an outside speaker and a wine and cheese reception.  Other parishes have a dinner with a speaker.  But be sure to thank them and encourage them to talk to others about their gift.  Tell them that they are the best evangelists for legacy stewardship because they can tell others why they made their gift and how it makes them feel.  Some of the members of your new legacy society might be willing to write a short article in your parish newsletter witnessing to their gift.  Or, you might get someone else to interview them and to write the article.

Once you get the legacy stewardship program going, it needs ongoing and continuous prompting and reminding.  And, from my experience, a layperson and not the Rector should assume responsibility for shepherding it.

All of these steps will, in a low key and systematic way, spread the word about legacy stewardship and encourage others to consider making such a gift.  If you are interested in learning more about legacy stewardship, see if there is someone at your diocesan office who can assist you.  Contact the Episcopal Church Foundation. Or, contact me, and I will tell you more and put you in touch with those who can assist you.  I can be reached by email at brsteward@comcast.net or by phone at (413) 575-7342.

Bruce Rockwell serves as Assistant to the Bishop for Stewardship in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and works with John White, the Diocesan Missioner for Legacy Stewardship.  Visit the legacy stewardship page on their website at:

  http://www.diocesewma.org/vision-ministry-statements/bishops-legacy