More than 100 members of St. Marys United Methodist Church gatheredSunday night to vote on how to deal with the unusually largedonation from member Warren Bailey, a telephone company owner who diedin July.
"The No. 1 issue that we were concerned about was to be sure ourchurch understood there were real spiritual dangers involved in keepingthis kind of money," the Rev. Derek McAleer, pastor of the church, saidMonday. "It's clear from our conversations that folks understood that."
Originally, leaders of the 715-member church had consideredinitially distributing $12 million, which would have been "a doubletithe," McAleer, said.
"We had proposed that we would do a $4 million capital fundsendowment, but we decided, no, we don't need that kind of money layingaround," he said. "It won't help us. We'll give that away instead."
Church members approved setting aside $2.8 million of the bequestfor an endowment fund that will benefit the congregation. McAleerexpects the church will gain $100,000 annually from investment proceedsfrom the fund, equivalent to the annual gift Bailey gave the church inrecent years for building projects.
McAleer could not say who will benefit from the $16 million thechurch plans to distribute up front, but he expects the church willcontinue to help ministries it has in the past, such as Methodist homesfor children and senior citizens and other organizations that help suchcauses as battered women, emotionally disturbed youth and people in needof housing.
The remaining money will be handled by the St. Marys UnitedMethodist Church Foundation, which members voted Sunday to establish.
The foundation will set up guidelines to determine which projects itwill consider for grants.
In the meantime, the church's phone is ringing and an already "bigfile" is filling up with requests from churches, other ministries andindividuals, McAleer said.
"We're getting everything from long-range funding for theirministries to `Mama needs surgery' to `I need a roof on my house,"' hesaid.
Loren Mead, a church consultant familiar with church endowments,said the Bailey bequest is "probably in the top dozen" of one-time giftsto individual congregations.
Mead, founder of the Alban Institute, a Maryland-based organizationthat assists congregations with publications and seminars, helped createEpiscopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran networks of congregations withendowments.
"Usually, they're very few, if any, members of the church who'veever seen that much money and so it comes as a psychic shock and itposes all kinds of management problems," he said.
McAleer and members of his church have discovered that handling amultimillion-dollar bequest is not an easy task. Since August, anadvisory board has met with legal and financial experts to determinewhat recommendations to bring to the congregation, which then met forthree hours and voted eight times regarding its new-found wealth.
"We have spent all this time working on process," the pastor said."We have not worried about the details of where it's going to go."