Generosity at heart of Primate’s Fund

By on November 1, 1999

Retired bishop of Nova Scotia Leonard Hatfield was instrumental in establishing the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

Port Greville, N.S.

At a time when many churches are struggling to meet their financial obligations it’s hard to conceive of a moment when over-generosity could have been an issue.

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But in a recent interview recalling the genesis of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, retired Bishop of Nova Scotia Leonard Hatfield said the spontaneous and overwhelming response by Anglicans to emergency appeals in the 1950s often left the church scrambling for ways to allocate donations.

“There were several cases where the generous offerings outstripped identified needs, but because it had been collected for one designated project, it couldn’t be reassigned to another, no matter how urgent,” he recalled.

As an example he said a 1953 campaign for flood relief for England and the Netherlands raised $170,000. Several years after the crisis had passed, the Archbishop of Canterbury was still trying to get remnants of the fund allocated.

By 1958 there had been four emergency appeals in five years and Bishop Hatfield, then head of the church’s national social services committee, said it was clear the $15,000 set aside annually in a philanthropic fund was woefully inadequate in light of world needs. “Experience showed that money given in the hours and days after a crisis were the most effective, but we had very little on hand. Each time there was a crisis we had to inaugurate a new appeal and there was always a delay before donations were available for use.”

Reviewing stacks of folders crammed with documents from the time, he said the issue came to a head in October 1958 when Anglicans and other Canadians rushed to help the families of 167 coal miners from Springhill, N.S. who died after being trapped three miles underground.

A national appeal raised $103,000. It was more than required, but it could not be touched even when the executive council of General Synod asked that some of the leftovers be used to help families of New Brunswick fishermen who were lost in a gale just a few weeks later.

“The funds were raised for a specifically designated cause and couldn’t be touched,” said Bishop Hatfield. “It was embarrassing.”

But it also underscored the need for the establishment of a continuing fund that would allow the church to make an immediate and appropriate response in times of distress.

Bishop Hatfield’s social services committee went to work and at General Synod in 1959 it presented plans to establish the Primate’s World Relief Fund. The idea received tremendous support and within 18 months the new agency had offered $152,000 worth of support to eight projects.

Church documents from the time are quick to praise Bishop Hatfield for his role in setting up the fund and acting as its first secretary. But sitting at a desk in the brightly lit study of his Port Greville home, he quietly downplayed his contribution, insisting he never wanted the job as secretary in the first place.

“I’d had already had 10 interesting years at Church House in Toronto and I’d been to the archbishop three times to ask to return to the love of my life, pastoral work.”

But it was not to be. He was asked to put wind into the sail of the fund so he worked with a team to develop the best plan possible to facilitate this new dimension in Christian giving.

He recalls the synod where the fund was approved as a jubilant, uplifting affair where a number of important events came together to ensure the future of the agency.

One of the most important was the election of Howard Hewlett Clark as primate.

He said Archbishop Clark took a strong personal interest in the development of the fund over its initial 10 years, often visiting projects and always providing wise guidance on policy decisions.

The second important moment at the synod was an address by Rev. Leslie Cooke, an associate secretary of the World Council of Churches who later became an adviser to the fund.

Bishop Hatfield said his address on the urgent need for world relief moved those in attendance deeply and helped awaken Canadians concerning their obligations to the homeless and the dispossessed.

“His ability to give deeper meaning to statistics by painting a picture of the faces behind the numbers was incredible. It was an idea readily embraced by the fund.

“Bishop Hatfield said no story about the early days of the fund would be complete without a note on the contributions of Sheila Bainbridge.

A council for social services staffer, Bishop Hatfield said the young English woman was tireless in her effort to promote the fund and he credits her with ensuring every parish and every family received information about it.

“She slaved me,” he says with a gentle laugh and a broad smile. “She was quite a gal. More than once I’d be coming home late from a meeting and she’d be at the top of the stairs waiting for me to solve some crisis or another.”

The first annual appeal for the Primate’s Fund was held on Sexagesima Sunday, 1960. A year later, with the agency on a steady footing, Bishop Hatfield returned to pastoral care work in Nova Scotia.

He was consecrated suffragan bishop in 1976 and became bishop of Nova Scotia in 1980, retiring in 1984.

Now 80, he said he’s watched the fund grow and has been especially pleased with the development work it has embraced since 1969.

“We could never have imagined how big this fund would grow,” he said. “We could never have guessed what it was capable of doing.”

Steve Proctor is Truro bureau chief at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.

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