A Living Legacy: Grace upon Grace

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Even the most financially ambitious among us hunger for more than just the money standard in our lives. Somewhere along the way, we want the assurance that our lives have been not only successful, but valuable. Most people want to leave something behind that would be not just a money gift to a cause, but the combination of a life of dedication that ripples out, in some way positively impacting others. We hope to leave a positive influence on our family, for example, or our community, or even the world – something that extends the passion or meaning of our living.

This is what we might call our living legacy. It’s the unspoken witness of our actions, how we have “walked the walk” in the process of getting through life. If we do leave a mark behind, we hope it will reflect our vision and values. And for those of us who are Christian, we hope that legacy will leave a footprint for others to follow, for example, to learn about Jesus Christ, or to be able to follow Him better in their living. Some people decide to leave Ethical Wills1 for their family members or congregations to hear about their values in their own words. Others give to a ministry or cause that lies close to their heart through their will or trust, and tell other people about its importance to them now.

Bishop Robert Schnase reminds us of the context for such efforts. “We have been the recipients of grace upon grace,” he says. “We are the heirs, the beneficiaries of those who came before us who were touched by the generosity of Christ enough to give graciously so that we could experience the truth of Christ for ourselves. We owe the same to generations to come.” 2

May you continue to clarify the living legacy you want to share, and find a way to pass it on to others, both now and after this lifetime.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – An Ethical Will is a personal document meant to communicate your values, experiences and life lessons to the next generation. Rabbis and Jewish laypeople have written Ethical Wills in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In recent years, the practice has been used more widely by the general public. Find out more about Ethical Wills at: https://celebrationsoflife.net/ethicalwills/examples/ or https://www.everplans.com/articles/how-to-write-an-ethical-will.

2 – Robert Schnase, Cultivating Fruitfulness: Five Weeks of Prayer and Practice for Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008).

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Even Better than a Birthday

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            Today we get to celebrate our youngest grandchild’s birthday! It’s amazing to think that he’s ten years old already. And of course we are bringing a small gift for him, which we hope he will enjoy.

But we made a greater financial gift shortly after his birth, when we put some money aside to grow toward a college fund. These days, it takes many years to gather up enough money to actually pay for college, and most parents have their financial arms full just handling current expenses as they raise their children.

When I look at our grandson, I imagine his life further down the road. What about his children and grandchildren? How will they fare, not just financially but spiritually? Who will help them learn about the Good News? What ministries will be there to show them God’s love and teach them about Jesus?

This is where planned giving comes in for those who are parents, grandparents, and forbears of future generations. With our own children we can write out Ethical Wills to express our values, but it’s the church’s ministries that will demonstrate those qualities and make them real in their lives. We don’t know the form of the future ministries that will be needed for their children, grandchildren, and on down the line. So my husband and I have directed part of our living trust to be given to our church for its future ministries. That’s what church endowments are for, and current donors can be as unrestricted or as specific as they choose to be in designating their gifts.

Knowing we’ve done this helps me feel freer today to celebrate with our grandson. By making a planned gift we haven’t put a lock on the future or controlled others in any way. But we’ve helped our grandchild and others encourage their grandchildren in their love of God and walk with Jesus Christ. — Now that’s even better than a birthday!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Living Treasures

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Hidden Treasure

This past Sunday I got to preach at Loomis UMC, CA, where they were celebrating “Living Treasures Sunday.” One Sunday each year they honor an older person (or couple) whose life shows what it means to be a joyful, faithful follower of Christ, modeling loving discipleship for future generations. The church hosts a special meal after worship for the recipients, and the whole congregation attends. As dinner guests, attendees are encouraged to bring a monetary “hostess gift” in honor of the recipient. The gift goes into the congregation’s endowment fund for future ministries.

The recipients this year were Garvin and Betty Jabusch, and they are true Living Treasures! The next two generations of their family were there to help us all celebrate them. Over the years, Betty and Garvin have participated in twenty-two volunteer building projects for homes for the poor, much of it through Habitat for Humanity. For their fiftieth anniversary, instead of going on a cruise or doing something costly for themselves, they sponsored building an entire home and invited their friends to join them as the volunteers to build it.

Whether we realize it or not, members of younger generations are watching and learning from what we do and how we live. In the case of the Jabusch family, that’s true not only in terms of learning extravagant generosity, but also learning the skills for building homes for others. Two of their sons are contractors, and one grandson works for Sierra Service Project, which does volunteer home building as well.

In a larger way, we all naturally look to older people around us as possible models for faithful living, and at the same time, we have the opportunity to be such models for those who come after us. I pray that you will be a Living Treasure to those around you, and to those who will follow in the years to come.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Five-Year Planned Giving Plan

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Steven Covey says there are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment: to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy. “The need to leave a legacy,” he says, “is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.”

A five-year Planned Giving plan for your congregation is not a one-time program, but an ongoing resource for families when they are thinking about their legacy for the future. Its purpose is for church members to discover they have multiple win-win options that include giving to their family as well as to ministries for future generations.

Planned giving has more to do with family relationships and passing on values than it is about disbursement of assets. It can be a way of teaching your children or grandchildren how to handle money, practice first fruits living, and decide the causes to whom they will give. Your Conference United Methodist Foundation can provide programs and technical expertise. By having a quarterly article, gathering, or workshop for a specific audience, you can let people know they have options for giving that will fit their unique situation.

The stewardship folks at the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church have an easy template for a five-year Planned Giving plan to get you started. You can access it at www.gbod.org/stewardship. The old adage is true: The best time to start a Planned Giving plan is twenty years ago; the next best time is now.

Your partner in ministry,Signed will document money

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Estate Planning

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Why would we want to do estate planning? For a start, we may have questions like these:

+ How can I be sure who will care for my children if a tragedy strikes me?

+ How could I best care financially for my aging parents?

+ Is there a way to give a gift to charity and still provide something for my grandchildren?

+ How can I increase my retirement income for the rest of my life and provide a gift to the church at the same time?

There are a lot more questions that we may have at various stages of our lives. Thankfully, there are people with our welfare at heart who can help us find the answers for our unique situations. The best place to connect with these people is the United Methodist Foundation in your Annual Conference.

Estate planning often begins by unlearning what we think is true. For example, I used to think people had to have a “big estate” (read: be really rich) to need estate planning, but that’s not true. It’s also not true that people should wait until they’re middle-aged or elderly to start making their estate plans. Guardianship of young children is a huge issue for parents just starting out, for example. People of all ages can make plans to empower generations beyond their lifetime, whether the beneficiaries are future family members or children who could be touched by the future church.

Planning now for the future can make a lasting impact on many levels. Colleen Crook, a Certified Life and Leadership Coach, says estate planning is the result of “a purposeful life, focused on taking action around your values, passion, mission and vision. It provides a sense of deep meaning, and can be a catalyst for positive, long-term change that continues beyond your lifetime.”

But making an estate plan can help us be more mindful of how we live now, as well. Our greatest inheritance can be the influence of a great example as we give to others, witness to our faith, and care for one another in times of decreased health. In these ways and many more, we can use our possessions to help others beyond our own personal needs.

Ideas for Celebrating a Local Church Endowment in Worship

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Call to Worship

Song:         “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”        UM Hymnal No. 400

Litany:
Gracious, giving God, You have blessed us with every gift, and especially with the gift of Jesus, who came that we all might have abundant and eternal life.
We give You our hearts and our lives! We seek to follow You through Jesus Christ and to extend his mission by the way that we live.
We give You our passion, our concerns, and our resources – the first and the best of what You have entrusted to us. We also seek to use the rest of what You have given according to Your priorities for all Your creation.
We dedicate ourselves to You, O God, that we may embody Your love for future generations, as well as our own.
Wesley preached the Gospel and put his faith into action. He reached out to those in need, leaving a legacy to transform the lives of people in generations to come. In the same way, we seek to commit ourselves to Your work through the gift of our resources for ministries beyond this lifetime.
May our gifts plant and nurture Your Gospel in future generations. May we continue to be a model of stewardship, so that others may follow in faith. This we pray through Your grace shown us in Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Naming Our Dreams for Future Ministries

Song:        “Pass It On”                        UM Hymnal No. 572

Prayer:
Glowing Cloud and Pillar of Fire, You raise up in each age leaders with a burning vision to guide Your people toward the land of promise.
We remember before You now those who have gone before us, who have left us a legacy of faith. [The people may say aloud specific names.] They have given us bedrock of values and resources with which to serve You throughout our lifetime.
We thank You also for those who have committed themselves to sharing Your vision with those who will come after us. We consecrate our lives to You, that we may share the greatness of life with You with the generations to come.
This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.