Here’s a fresh idea: Encouragement Sunday! What’s that, you might ask? It’s a new way of looking at a longstanding idea – of prayerfully making a gift to the Church from your estate.
For many years we have urged all members of the Church to consider leaving a gift in their wills to their local parishes or a diocesan ministry. It’s difficult to measure our progress. Certainly, many parishes receive gifts from time to time from the estates of their parishioners, though I believe most receive very little when compared to health-related charities or schools. It is not a common practice for Anglicans to think of their church as a recipient of end-of-life giving.
Encouragement Sunday would reverse that practice.
What if we made a special effort to promote estate-giving on one dedicated Sunday each year? That way, all our effort and conversation might coalesce at the same time. The date can be promoted, discussed and preached about. It’s the one day each year when parishes focus on how each of us can provide for future ministry in the Church.
Personally, I think Encouragement Sunday should be held on the first Sunday after Remembrance Day. This way we can honour the past on one Sunday and then look to the future on the next one. That is what gifts of encouragement are all about – funding the ministry, mission and capital needs of the Church that will come after us. It’s a day to be hopeful and good stewards, ensuring that future generations can find a home in the Church.
But why “Encouragement Sunday” and not just “Legacy Sunday”? Because the notion of encouragement is rooted in scripture. Acts 4:36-37 provides what is considered to be the first example of a planned gift in scripture. Though Joseph, later named Barnabas, didn’t leave a gift in his will, so to speak, he did make a gift from his estate – selling a parcel of land and giving the proceeds to the apostles for the ministry of the early Church.
Barnabas means “son of encouragement.” Each one of us can be a child of encouragement by making a provision from our estate to serve the temporal needs of the Church now and in the future.
Gifts of encouragement have the potential to be transformational. Suppose we recommended that all Anglicans consider leaving a tithe – another concept rooted in scripture – to the Church in their estates. This leaves plenty of opportunity to make provisions for family members and other charities. At a time of huge wealth transfer with the passing of the “Greatest Generation” (those born before the baby boom), the Church needs to avoid being an afterthought in people’s gift planning.
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell persuasively argues that the tipping point is “that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” It only takes a little – often just 15 per cent – to result in a significant change. What if 15 per cent of our parishes decided to embrace the idea of Encouragement Sunday in 2020?
The practice could be very simple: develop a brochure and hand it out to everyone at church, preach about gift planning from the pulpit, and then have someone during announcements bear witness to the gift they have made. It doesn’t need to be any more than this (although you might want to inform the envelope secretary or stewardship committee that you’ve made such a provision in your estate plans). The key is doing something.
I bet if we could identify 30 parishes in the Diocese of Toronto to commit to Encouragement Sunday in 2020, it would become normative by 2022. My guess is that if 30 parishes agreed to make Nov. 15, 2020 a focus on gift planning, it would take off. The event would be newsworthy, and people would share stories of hope, joy and encouragement.
Ready to commit? As you contemplate something new for 2020, are you ready to make a gift of encouragement and celebrate that gift on Encouragement Sunday? If your parish is interested in taking a step forward by participating in Encouragement Sunday, let me know at [email protected]. Let’s create a tipping point of our own.