Nurturing Life After Death
“You give us the kind of money we can’t get anywhere else.”
“These grants may be small, but they support work we couldn’t otherwise do.”
“I love that these grants combine faith and environment. There aren’t very many funders who do both.”
Environmental non-profit leaders on the United States’ southeastern coast are always delighted to find another foundation that can help them with their important work. The M.K. Pentecost Ecology Fund Committee at Savannah Presbytery is always glad to be able to help.
“There are so many organizations doing great coastal conservation work; we hate to turn anyone down,” says Rev. Mary Beene, who coordinates the fund for Savannah Presbytery. She reports that they annually provide about $35,000 to environmental non-profits and students in Georgia and South Carolina in accordance with the wishes of M.K. Pentecost Jr., an Atlanta attorney, who set up the fund as a charitable remainder trust through the Presbyterian Foundation. After his death, the Foundation contacted Savannah Presbytery to administer the fund and determine how the annual gifts would be given.
“When I first heard about the Pentecost Fund,” Beene says, “I assumed they meant the annual church celebration.” But Beene soon learned that Mr. M. K. Pentecost Jr. was well known in Presbyterian circles throughout Georgia. He served the Presbyterian Church (USA) as Executive of the Presbytery of Georgia and on the staff of Greater Atlanta Presbytery during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. He spent a great deal of time on St. Simons Island and loved Georgia’s coastal beauty.
The purpose of the fund, as outlined in its by-laws, is for “the presbytery’s ministry of environmental justice and ecological stewardship of natural resources including marine and wildlife.” The funds are to be used for promoting the support of conservation efforts, education, and studies in key environmental issues of endangered ecosystems and ecological projects that are approved by the presbytery.
The Ecology Fund committee reviews and manages the grant requests and reporting requirements for grantees. “It’s the most fun committee in the Presbytery,” jokes Beene. “We have money to give away.” Committee members serve three-year terms, and many come back repeatedly because they enjoy the opportunity to do great work for the environment. Their website states: “We believe that the church has a responsibility for protecting God’s creation, seeking environmental justice, encouraging conservation, promoting education and restoring the eco-system. This exciting and challenging mission is grounded in our faith teaching that we are the stewards of God’s creation. As the psalmist tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 2:4). We, as God’s people, are to care for the whole of creation.”
Recent projects have included supporting local land trusts, sponsoring a coastal faith and environment conference, and developing a Passport for the Coast that encourages local eco-tourism along Georgia’s 100-mile coastline. Mr. Pentecost knew the importance of the beauty of the coast for preservation, but he also understood that the wetlands and relatively undisturbed natural barrier islands of the Georgia coast also preserve and protect the inland environment. Marshes filter contaminants, reduce catastrophic flooding, and provide important opportunities for fisheries and businesses dependent on clean water and limited disturbance of habitat.
M. K. Pentecost knew that he would not be around forever to give money to organizations that protect these regions, but he could give long after his death through the M. K. Pentecost Ecology Fund. As new organizations develop new tools and projects for conservation, the fund provides important start-up resources. “It’s like he can bring new life from death,” suggests Beene. It also allows members of the committee to be even more active than they might otherwise have capacity.
One committee member brought his daughter on a site visit to St. Catherine’s Island, where the fund gave money to support an important sea turtle conservation project. His daughter was able to get an internship with the program and continues to move toward a career in conservation as she finishes college. Another important component of the fund is that it offers two to three small grants each year to graduate students who can demonstrate how their research will positively affect coastal conservation.
“The Presbyterian Foundation makes it easy to start a fund that can live long after you are gone and support conservation efforts of our children and grandchildren,” says Beene with excitement.
Not everyone can give a $1 million gift like Mr. Pentecost, but even small contributions can make a big difference in a conservation non-profit’s future. You might consider how your ecology team could pull together to make a bigger donation to a charitable remainder fund, or you could talk to older members who can no longer get out and do on-the-ground conservation work about how they can financially support these efforts with a legacy gift.
“No one ever wants to talk about money,” say Beene, “but as a Peace Corps volunteer in Hungary, I quickly learned that passion without resources could not get the work done.” The M.K. Pentecost Ecology Fund is an important way that one Presbyterian could provide resources to those who shared his passion for our Southeastern coastline. “Wouldn’t it be great to have Presbyterian ecology funds all over our country?” dreams Beene.
How is your church promoting resurrection and new life after death?