Wills Seminar Inspires Lasting Legacy and Establishment of the Grayson UMC Foundation
When Gad told King David to offer sacrifices to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite, so the plague which had come against the Israelites would be stayed, David went to Ornan and asked to buy his land. Ornan offered to give it to him, along with everything else he needed for the sacrifice. David refused, telling Ornan that he would not give to the Lord that which cost him nothing. (I Chronicles 21:24).
Bill and Mary Johnson, lifelong members of Grayson UMC in Grayson, GA, subscribed to David's philosophy. They lived modestly, according to Becky Page, who knew them well and worked with them at the Church. No one would have guessed they accumulated what they had, Page said. "We were stunned to learn they had an estate worth $2,500,000 and, with the exception of a few personal items that the family received, left it all to the Church."
The Johnsons, who had no children of their own, considered the children of the Church theirs. Mary did not work outside the home, but gave her time to the Church, taking care of Bill, and, for a while, cheering on the Georgia Bulldogs. She was president of the United Methodist Women, taught Sunday School, served on several committees, and was active in the building program.
When Rev. Phil Schroeder was appointed as senior pastor, the Church began to grow and needed more room. "Phil had a vision for growth and drove that train," said Tracy Gerard, another longtime member of the Church. "Part of his vision included adding facilities to the sanctuary that had been completed in 1993."
In the planning phase a decision had to be made about the original church called "The Chapel", Gerard reports. The Chapel was built in 1885, and over the years mold and mildew had taken over its walls, floor and ceiling. The congregation knew that either the Chapel would have to be torn down or repaired at great cost to the church.
"The decision was controversial and there was infighting over it because it was our original church - our heritage," said Gerard. "At the meeting where the issue was finally decided, it was Mary who greatly influenced the outcome. After hearing the arguments on both sides, she stood and said, 'If the chapel is torn down, I will be sad, but I won't be sorry. It's time to build for the future.'"
The Church tore down the old chapel and began construction on the new project. The focal point of the new building became the "Heritage Chapel" where the stained glass windows, pews, and altar furnishing from "The Chapel" now reside. The bell from the Chapel was also saved and is now displayed in a garden on the Church property. In addition to Heritage Chapel, the new building houses classrooms, church offices, a preschool, gym, fellowship hall, and a professional kitchen. The Johnsons made a significant contribution toward the purchase of the steeple and also gave the money to furnish the kitchen with commercial equipment.
Rev. Schroeder, the pastor when the new construction began, says, "They were the spiritual leaders of the Church. As a new pastor at Grayson UMC, I went to visit them. They told me not to come and see them unless they called me, because they were fine. They wanted me to be out visiting people who were not members of the Church, inviting them to join our fellowship. Mary pulled me over one day and said, 'Phil, don't worry about money. Let us worry about that.'"
As senior pastor, Schroeder decided to offer a Wills Seminar for his congregation. The Johnsons came, but did nothing immediately, he said. "As they aged, they called me. They told me they needed Wills, so I sent one of our lawyers over to see them and talk to them about their wishes."
Although no one guessed the Johnsons had the kind of money they had, including Rev. Schroeder, casting the net wide with a Wills Seminar resulted in a gift that changed the course of the Church for great good.
Gerard says the Johnson bequest has greatly impacted the Church. "There were no strings attached, so we used it to pay off the mortgage. We are now debt free. We also purchased two buses which we use to transport seniors and our kids, and then, with the roughly half a million left, we set up an endowment fund in a separate Grayson UMC Foundation, invested with the Georgia United Methodist Foundation. We will let God direct us as to how to use this money, but it gives us the opportunity to start new ministries in our Church and at the same time allows us to reach out to the Grayson community and beyond. The establishment of the Grayson UMC Foundation ensures that the legacy the Johnsons left is not frittered away, but used wisely to make disciples of Christ.
"The Johnsons also left us their house, which is near the Church. For two years after they passed away, a single mom lived in it rent free until she got on her feet. Then, we converted it into a parsonage for our associate pastor."
"Bill and Mary Johnson were very special people. Grayson UMC has been truly blessed through their gifts."
For Grayson UMC, it was Schroeder's Wills Seminar that planted the seed that eventually resulted in a major bequest for Grayson UMC from loyal, loving followers of Christ.
Rev. Chuck Savage, retired CEO of the Georgia United Methodist Foundation, reports that taking an average of four surveys, roughly eighty trillion dollars ($80,000,000,000,000) will be transferred from the most senior generations in our country over the lifetime of the baby boomers. In the next five years alone, sixteen trillion dollars will change hands.
How much of that can be attributed to Georgia United Methodists? Savage has done the math: about fifty-six billion for Methodists in the North Georgia Conference and thirty-four billion for Methodists in the South Georgia Conference. Shouldn't Georgia United Methodist churches follow the lead of Grayson UMC and educate their members about the blessings and benefits of charitable planning through Wills? Members need to know how to leave bequests to continue their legacies and bless those who follow them in the ministries of their fellowships. Bill and Mary Johnson attended the Wills Seminar at their church and took action that allowed Grayson UMC to be debt free, to engage in new ministries, and to expand existing ones.
Please contact Nancy Young at the Georgia United Methodist Foundation (678-708-6601) to set up a Wills Seminar at your church.
The author is Zoe M. Hicks, past Board Chair of the Georgia United Methodist Foundation. She is an attorney with Atlanta-based Hicks & Hicks, P.C. and an accomplished motivational author and speaker on Christian and faith-based topics.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2015 edition of Faith & Money, a publication of the Georgia United Methodist Foundation.