Dear Pastor… Memorial Gifts

This is a series of articles about real world problems that churches often find difficult to handle. They are presented in the form of emails for ease of conversation but can come in many different ways.

Disclaimer: All the names are made up and in no way identify actual people nor does the author assume responsibility for the opinion expressed in the response.

Memorial gifts are another church landmine. Many times even with the best intentions of the donor, gifts to the church are just not appropriate. How do you say no without losing a member or an entire family? It is especially hard when the family feels that it is being generous and really wants to honor their loved one in a special way at the church. Yet looking at the best interest of the church and especially looking at the church in the long term, gifts as memorials are troublesome. First of all because they are not permanent: Pews or benches wear out. Art works go out of style. Carpet wears out. Books fray and hymnals are replaced or discontinued. Trees die and plaques become meaningless when they are so old that no one knows who the person was. Churches relocate and even die and close. All these things make gifts like this difficult.

This is when a Memorials Committee is very helpful. First of all deciding what kinds of gifts the church will accept and writing policy will help most situations. When someone dies, the family can be given a copy of the policy early on, defusing discussions that are not suitable. Another helpful tool is to develop a list of desired options that a memorial can help the church with. Developing a permanent memorial book that lists gifts allows for recognition with our having plaques all over everything in the building and also allows that a memorial gift may not be something visible like a stained glass window but seed money for a new ministry or program of the church. Another benefit of a memorial book is that it can be displayed in a public place and pages opened to different gifts each week or month and family members can be notified that “that their page” will be on display. This invites visits and memories for the family and is healthy for all concerned.

Perhaps you would like to share your own stories or solutions to memorial gifts. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Content written by contributor, Rev. Paul Johnson, CCA

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