Today, I want to challenge you with a question:
What is your legacy here at Church of the Ascension?
In the broadest definition of “legacy,” Webster’s dictionary simply says that a legacy is “something handed down from a predecessor, or from the past.”
This glorious church building and the La Farge mural are the most obvious examples of gifts from the past when we look around us. They are a reflection of some of the “things” that are our inheritance — or legacy — left to us by the many generations who worshipped here since this church was founded in 1827.
I want to suggest that ever since you came through that door for the first time, whether as an infant like Greyson, or as an adult like Craig, both of whom are being baptised today, your presence has begun to create your own particular legacy in this place. Your legacy is a gift to this and to future generations.
I want to speak to two elements of what legacy is about:
- Legacy has a focus on the present: building friendship in community
- Legacy focuses on the future: planning for our futures before we die
Building Friendship in Community
This is something we can do today that will bear fruit tomorrow.
Today is All Saints Sunday. We join in worship and praise of God with all the saints throughout the ages. In particular, we join with all parishioners who have gone before us here at Ascension. In our prayers today we intentionally remember our beloved family and friends who have found eternal rest. We are that next generation that is benefiting from the many gifts that have been lovingly left to us. Today I am thinking about my own mother who died this summer, and left a rich legacy of love and care that is my personal inheritance. Her legacy has informed my own faith and helps me contribute to this community.
Community is by definition something we live out and create together. The “One World, One Faith, One God” campaign that Mother Shelley has articulated holds up a vision for our future together. It is about growing the ministries that we do together as the people of God in this place and about using our resources wisely. We should embrace the challenge today.
Past generations built a strong and vibrant community, both in life and — intentionally — upon death. They are too many to name, but the names and people that today we may or may not recognize includes Edwin and Florence Manton. Their legacy includes our lovely Manton Memorial Organ and money given to our endowment. Whether our predecessors provided leadership, music, friendship, hospitality, prayer, or financial gifts, their generosity helps us to do the work God is calling us to do today. The legacy of someone like Barbara Akin meant something to me personally, and is far greater than the generous bequest she left Ascension.† She was the first person to warmly welcome me to my first service at Ascension and extend the hand of friendship and make me feel part of this community.
The Christian writer, Henri Nouwen, put it this way: “Community is one of the greatest gifts the church has to offer … a new kind of friendship, new ways of belonging.” Without community there is no one to inherit our legacy.
Planning for Our Future
A second aspect of what legacy is about is planning for our own future.
Perhaps the best way to preserve and honour the legacies we have received from past generations is to plan how we can contribute both in life and upon death to building God’s Kingdom in this place. We can of course take none of our earthly wealth or possessions with us when we die, and we have no control on how they are divided. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. once said, “The only question about wealth is what to do with it.”
Here are two practical suggestions:
- Make a will. The Book of Common Prayer, on page 445, exhorts us all to provide for the well being of our family members and loved ones, especially children, while we are in good health. Where possible we are reminded in the Prayer Book to leave bequests to religious or charitable causes. Is Church of the Ascension in your will? Is Church of the Ascension important enough to you to leave a bequest in your will? For anyone who has made a gift in their estate plans, or is considering doing so, we are hosting a short 30-minute discussion today after Coffee Hour about “legacy” and the creation of a Legacy Society at Church of the Ascension. All are welcome to attend.
- Plan for your burial or inurnment. A second suggestion: If you leave the church today through the main doors, take a look at the Columbarium in the entranceway. Do you know where your final resting place will be? Why not consider purchasing a niche in the Columbarium as that place? You can obtain more information from the Parish Office.
In closing, to paraphrase Henri Nouwen, he helpfully reminds what legacy giving — and indeed all giving — is about. Nouwen says that whether we have much or little is not as important as opening ourselves to the possibilities of what God can do with our generosity. As we continue our worship, in communion with all the saints, consider the question: What is your legacy here at Church of the Ascension?
†I incorrectly stated that Barbara Akin’s Legacy gift was used to purchase the green vestments used at Ascension. The green vestments were in fact a gift from Joel Armstrong honouring his life with his partner, long before same-sex marriage was possible. The inscription inside the vestment reads:
“To the Glory of God and in Celebration of the life together of James Leventhal and Joel Armstrong.”
I am deeply grateful to Janet Fisher for pointing this out, and for the opportunity of learning about two of the saints who have gone before us at Ascension whom I did not have the privilege of knowing.
Maurice Seaton is a certified fund raiser (CFRE) and Senior Consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation. He has provided leadership, annual stewardship, planned giving, and capital campaign consulting services to numerous Episcopal organizations in the United States and Europe. Born in South Africa, Maurice moved to New York to work as a diplomat for Nelson Mandela’s government at the United Nations. He holds a B.A. with Honors in International Relations from Rhodes University, South Africa, and a Masters of Public Administration (MPA) from New York University.