In recent years more and more churches, both denominations and local churches, have been engaged in helping members do planned giving—the giving of gifts of accumulated assets either in the giver's lifetime or after death. Often when a church begins exploration to establish a planned giving fund, or endowment fund, there is debate among members as to whether a church should be accumulating assets. Should a church establish an endowment fund?
Yes, there are faithful reasons for doing so. The first reason is that God has called those of us who follow Jesus Christ to be stewards. Douglas John Hall, Canadian theologian, in his book The Steward; A Biblical Symbol Come of Age, writes that stewardship "describes the whole posture called 'Christian.' Being stewards we have a relationship first of all to God, the creator, then to other human beings, then to nonhuman creatures, and towards Earth, our common home. Assets, whether they be land, money, stocks, or real estate are a part of what God has called us to relate to in a faithful way so that we can relate to the other aspects of creation more faithfully.
Yes, the assets can be spent as soon as they are given, but a well-organized and thoughtthrough plan for receiving such assets and for the use of the income provides the opportunity for the mission of the church to continue through many years to come. A man came to his minister when she had first come to his church and said, "Do you know anything about endowments? I will be giving a great deal of money to this church when I die and I would like to see our church plan for receiving such assets as I plan to give so that our church can widen its ministry and mission to others. I would like to see the assets I give to the church go on in perpetuity to serve those in need." Generous as he was in life, he was concerned that a good plan be put into place.
Some people are concerned that an endowment fund will choke off regular, faithful and proportionate giving by members because "we have all that money." If the assets are invested wisely, and guidelines are established that direct the income to new mission, mission only for others, or in some cases major capital projects, then this kind of giving does not "choke off' regular annual giving to the church. A well-planned endowment policy enables members of churches who have considerable assets to give to their church in a way that is faithful and will further the realm of God on earth.
The church that has concern for socially responsible investments can invest its endowment assets through United Church Funds ensuring that their investments are socially responsible. As stockholders in corporations, church members can exert influence on those corporations so that they are socially responsible.
The income from endowments enables many churches to reach far beyond what they would be able to do through the yearly pledges of their members and the annual budget. Churches have begun retirement homes, sponsored children in other countries, resettled refugees, started youth centers, given scholarships to people who wish to receive seminary training, begun a new program with "start up" money from the investments, made their church building accessible to persons who are differently abled, supported mission schools in countries where women rarely receive education, and a host of other important and needed ministries. One church with a relatively small amount of money endowed to it in the early 1900's sent over fifty people to seminary.
We live in a country and society in which money and other assets are the base of the economy. In recent years people have accrued valuable assets. These people need their churches to provide the opportunity for them to give of those assets in a way that builds up the body of Christ and serves the world.
The Reverend Anne D. Kear
Rocky Mountain Conference