Do people simply forget the church?

Published October 1, 2005

A stroll through the obituary page of the Globe and Mail can be instructive when one is a member of a non-profit organization like the Anglican Church of Canada.

One is not necessarily looking for members of the faithful who have gone to glory, but for some insight as to where memorial donations are directed.

The church is conspicuously absent and one wonders why this is.

On a typical day, there were 21 memorial notices in the Globe and 16 asked for memorial contributions. Of those 16, one asked for donations to the Catholic Caritas Charity and two to the Benjamin Foundation, a Jewish organization that directs donations to a variety of charities.

Of the remaining 13, donations were requested (some named more than one) for Canadian Blood Services, Salvation Army Grace Hospital, Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, Heart and Stroke Foundation, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Kidney Foundation, Princess Margaret Hospital, Hope Hospice and Palliative Care, Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, St. John Ambulance, Community Foundation of Ottawa, William Osler Health Centre, Alzheimer Society, Toronto Humane Society, Toronto Zoo and “charity of choice.”

It is not always easy to determine religious affiliation, but on this day, 14 notices mentioned a religious or memorial service, either in a church or chapel, yet only three mentioned a religious connection for contributions.

When a person dies, friends, family, and business acquaintances often have a strong desire to show their affection and regard for the deceased and reach out to the family by means of a donation. Sometimes, donations are made on the anniversary of a death.

It can be a powerful way to remember the departed and to benefit the living. Canon John Erb, who was executive director of the Anglican Foundation, died suddenly last July. He was a priest with a huge personality and a wide range of friends and acquaintances. His family asked, in his memorial notice, that people remember his work at the Anglican Foundation. The collection at his funeral in St. James Cathedral in Toronto was also given to the foundation.

So far, that collection, plus individual contributions, has totaled about $16,000, according to foundation staff.

Why don’t more people name their church as a possible recipient of memorial donations?

One answer, of course, could be that the deceased wasn’t particularly committed to a religious organization and specifically favoured another health, arts or humanitarian group – fair enough.

Another reason is that when a person dies of a specific illness, donations are requested for an organization – such as the Cancer Society – that supports people with that illness. Often, the hospital or hospice is named, out of gratitude for the care given the individual. All these types of charities, of course, are organizations worthy of support.

But when the deceased, or family members, are Anglican, why not also mention the church?

Could it be through fear of giving offense to members of another denomination or faith, or no faith at all? People who wish to honour an individual often set aside personal preferences to accede to the family’s desires. In the Anglican sphere, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund extends disaster relief and development aid regardless of creed.

Perhaps more people don’t name the church simply because no one thinks of it. The primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, has told this story: when he was a young priest, he visited a man several times in the last weeks of his life. After he died, his widow mentioned that he’d been careful to make provisions for the symphony, the museum, the hospital, in his will. Not the church. No one, said Archbishop Hutchison – including himself – had ever asked.

What lost opportunities to support the work of a local church, a cathedral, a diocese, the Anglican Appeal, the Anglican Foundation, the General Synod, the Primate’s Fund. Because no one asked? Because no one thought of it?

Maybe it’s worth thinking about. Solange De Santis is a staff writer with the Journal. Editor Leanne Larmondin is on sabbatical and will resume her editorial in the Journal’s next issue.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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