An Unexpected Gift

Every planned gift, large or small, will grow to support ministries that we cannot imagine today. What good works will come from your bequest? How will your gift nurture the community you love for years to come? Planned gifts are the ultimate act of faith for the future of your church and its mission in the world.

“We are truly blessed,” read the heading on the Vestry’s fall 2016 letter to parishioners at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Panama City, Florida. St. Andrew’s is blessed indeed—today and well into the future—thanks to the faith and generosity of Eugene (Jim) Barnett, who left the church a bequest of more than $3 million at his death in April 2016.

For the small, mostly older congregation with significant ministries in the community as well as a large church and other buildings to operate and maintain, Barnett’s unexpected gift has been life-giving.

It has also been challenging, and that’s where ECF’s Endowment Management Solutions (EMS) has helped—from the very beginning.

“Jim was a unique man, and we had struck up this wonderful friendship,” says St. Andrew’s rector, Margaret Shepard. “He’d come by around once a month, and we’d talk about music, art, friendship, that kind of thing.” In 2014, he asked her for help in setting up a bequest to the church. St. Andrew’s did not have a planned giving program and she didn’t feel she could advise him, so she suggested he call Ken Quigley, ECF’s Senior Program Director for EMS.

“Mr. Barnett called, and we had a nice chat,” Quigley recalls. “He talked about his intention to create a true endowment, held in perpetuity to benefit the church. I suggested some language that could be used in his will to achieve that goal.”

Two years later, Shepard learned that Barnett had died. His lawyer would be coming to Panama City to meet with her and with two of Barnett’s cousins. When she learned at that meeting that Barnett had left the bulk of his estate, more than $3 million, to St. Andrew’s, Shepard says she “almost passed out.”

And then she called Quigley and asked him to get involved.

ECF brings order and experience to the process

Strengthening the financial capabilities of Episcopal congregations is a cornerstone of ECF’s mission, and Quigley was glad to bring ECF’s knowledge and expertise to the table. He helped her navigate the process, providing assistance on two fronts—nudging the estate settlement process along and working with a committee of the vestry to structure an Endowment Fund to include both Barnett’s Trust and a second General Fund to hold new legacy gifts.

He also helped the vestry explain to the congregation what Mr. Barnett’s legacy would mean for the church. “Suddenly, they had a different story to tell,” says Quigley. He created a draft for the vestry’s letter to the congregation, a clear and concise explanation of the trust—basic facts about its size, purpose, management and oversight, the spending rule designed to preserve the principal, and the fund’s impact on the church’s budget and annual stewardship.

“The letter was also a way to use Barnett’s gift to talk about legacy giving,” says Quigley. It announced the vestry’s plan to create a Legacy Society to honor those who have named St. Andrew’s in their estate plans and to provide guidance and information for those who wish to do so.

Shepard and the vestry chose to tithe Barnett’s bequest to the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, and they did that first. “They set aside ten percent and transferred the funds right away,” says Quigley.

“St. Andrew’s unexpected and very welcome gift will touch many in the Diocese for years to come,” says Diocesan Administrator Dwight Babcock. Their share of the Barnett gift will be used in part for a School for Ministry and the Curacy Fund. In addition, the Diocese is following St. Andrew’s lead and designating ten percent of its gift to support youth programs at the diocesan camp and conference center.

Putting the gift to good and godly use

Just as Barnett’s bequest was generous, so were his intentions for its application in the church’s life and ministry. He loved beauty, and wanted his gift to be used to enhance St. Andrew’s church and grounds, everything from altar flowers and vestments, to artwork and the parish library. He also wanted his bequest to help support the church’s outreach ministries that provide food, supplies and care to people who are homebound, in nursing homes or hospice and to single or widowed mothers. In keeping with his wishes, the endowment policy states that revenue generated through Barnett’s trust will be “used for a variety of ministries at St. Andrew’s such as outreach ministries, improving the parish library, capital improvements, beautification projects (buildings and grounds), and artwork.”

When Barnett died, the church was in the middle of a capital project to renovate the nave. When the work was finished, they had realigned the worship space so that the large clear window overlooking St. Andrew’s Bay was directly behind the altar. A terrazzo floor that included a labyrinth had replaced the carpet, and the pews had given way to cathedral chairs.

All beautiful improvements, but more was needed. This past year, funds from the endowment have made it possible to replace the roof on the main church and parish hall, paint the exterior, and bring the air conditioning systems up to speed—capital improvements that would have taken more than a decade to accomplish without the bequest, according to Senior Warden Tom Brewer. “When you fix the roof, you fix a whole lot of things,” he says.

Brewer has been grateful for ECF’s assistance along the way. “As a senior warden,” he says, “I don’t lose a lot of sleep at night.”

Helping congregations establish endowments is hands-on at ECF

While St. Andrew’s story may not be replicated in the same way in other places, ECF plays a helping hand in multiple accounts all over the nation. “Every place is unique,” says Quigley. “ECF works one-on-one with churches in setting up their endowment funds, resolving procedural issues, and helping tell the story of that particular endowment.”

Whether you’re dealing with a larger bequest like St. Andrew’s or something considerably smaller, the task of addressing a donor-designated endowment remains the same—to honor the wishes of the donor and to preserve the life of the gift in perpetuity.

“We are pleased that ECF could play a role in this bequest,” Quigley says. “Stories like this inspire us to continue in our mission to establish and grow endowments in Episcopal institutions all across the country.”

Susan Elliott is a writer and editor, working with the Episcopal Church Foundation, Forward Movement, Renewal/Works, and parishes and other organizations in the Episcopal Church. She is the writer of ECF’s 2015 Vestry Resource Guide, and collaborates with Jay Sidebotham on “Slow Down. Quiet. It’s Advent,” published annually by Forward Movement.