"Gift" to a Catholic Church?
May 10, 2011 1:35 PM   Subscribe

What do churches need? My late mother-in-law's birthday is coming up next month, and I want to get something for the church that she served as an organist for 30 years to commemorate her life (she passed in September 2009)

The thing is, I'm an atheist Jew, and my husband hasn't been to Church (other than going to see his mom play) since he was a kid 50 years ago.

What do churches NEED that might make a good commemoration? I sent an e-mail to the address they have on their website, but who knows if someone ever checks it.

Point of reference, if needed, we're in Manhattan, the church is on Long Island.
posted by roomthreeseventeen to Society & Culture (21 answers total)
I'm the board president of a church in NYC. You should get in touch with someone at the church office to see if you can talk to the pastor about some ideas. I, for one, could think of a thousand things at a variety of price points that my church could use - and another thousand things we definitely do not need that will just sit around taking up space. We have a number of lovely items that have been donated/paid for as memorials, including musical instruments, stained glass windows, silver/gold communion servers, religious artwork for the sanctuary, and outdoor lighting to showcase the building.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:39 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hymnbooks, Prayer Books, Collection Plates, Bibles, Baptism Gowns, Materials for Small Groups, Alpha Courses, Vacation Bible Schools, and the like---the small stuff that people usually forget.

Would be useful to know the denomination.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:40 PM on May 10, 2011

What denomination?

When dealing with churches, I'd suggest making a phone call rather than sending e-mail, the level of technological sophistication varies widely.
posted by Jahaza at 1:41 PM on May 10, 2011

Church organs always - always - need repair or replacement.
posted by The World Famous at 1:41 PM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

I would suggest calling the church and talking to someone there. They are accustomed to this sort of thing and would be happy to tell you what needs doing/buying in your price range. Typical things that I can think of would be pews being reupholstered, hymnals/missals replaced, vestments for priests (if it's a Catholic church). Other possibilities would include a bench on the grounds (with a plaque w/your mother-in-law's name), a garden, or a donation to the church's social projects. Coolest of all, I'd imagine, is if they need something organ-related, like an organist's bench or something. But the church secretary/parish administrator will be able to tell you or put you in contact with someone who knows.
(I've tried to do stuff like this in the past through email and I always get better responses when I call. I'm not sure whether they don't check the email, don't answer regularly, or assume you're not as serious as someone on the phone, but it's definitely been my experience.)
posted by katemonster at 1:41 PM on May 10, 2011

Call them and see whether you can set up/contribute to a fund specifically for maintenance of the organ.
posted by Etrigan at 1:42 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

It may also be possible to make a gift like a memorial candle or lamp that will have some small physical object associated with it, but which is primarily a way of honoring a donation that goes to operating expenses, which may or may not be of more critical need than any particular in kind object depending on the Church.
posted by Jahaza at 1:43 PM on May 10, 2011

Ah, I missed that she was an organist. I would definitely suggest donating to an organ or music fund if they have one. Also, what price range are we talking here? If it's a couple hundred, the answers will be different than if its a couple thousand (or a couple hundred thousand).
posted by Jahaza at 1:45 PM on May 10, 2011

Oh, sorry, denomination... $100-$200.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:48 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yes, another vote for a donation to the music fund or the organ fund. Calling and asking who does the music and if you can contact them would be the best way to get through to the person who'd be using the music and who knows the congregation's needs.
posted by pie ninja at 1:53 PM on May 10, 2011

If it's a Catholic church, as the title suggests, then speak directly with the parish priest. In the Catholic system, the priest usually has sole signing authority over any and all financials of the parish. Unless you want your donation to go into the main "pot" and get used for whatever the priest deems worthy, you'll need to specify what exactly it should be used for. Talk to the priest and see what can be done.
posted by LN at 1:55 PM on May 10, 2011

Actually, I think Jahaza probably meant what religious denomination.

A fund for the organ would be great, as would a contribution for capital improvements.
posted by jgirl at 1:56 PM on May 10, 2011

Actually, by denomination, we mean Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, Christian Scientist, etc.
posted by Jahaza at 1:56 PM on May 10, 2011

Oh, oops. (Wow, can you tell I'm not really Christian?)

Roman Catholic
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:03 PM on May 10, 2011

If it's a Catholic church, as the title suggests

Doh, totally missed that. Yep, if it's Catholic and you want to give cash, you should speak with the priest who will have complete control over the disposition of any official gift to the Church (he's required to follow the intent of the donor, but he doesn't have to accept gifts.)

The Catholic Church is implementing a new English translation of the prayers for Mass. One thing in your price range would be a new missal (the book with the prayers used by the priest, sort of the Catholic equivalent of a siddur, as far as I can tell), which the Church will have to buy this fall. They could put a nameplate in the front with a dedication.

You might be able to give hymnals (1-4 in your price range probably), but many Catholic Churches use disposable newsprint ones, not permanent books.

If you don't mind giving the money unofficially (e.g. in cash and without needing a tax receipt) or could give something in kind you might speak with the current organist or choir director and see what they need. For instance, I just bought a set of three passion books for our parish, which are used during Holy Week. They might have other sheet music they're looking to buy, or they might use the money to pay for extra singers or musicians for special services (e.g. a trumpeter for Easter).
posted by Jahaza at 2:09 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Totally LOL at the "denomination" misunderstanding. You ARE a Manhattanite atheist, aren't you? :)

Anyway, given that your MIL was an organist, definitely hymnals or song books or something related. Talk to the music director, if there is one, and find out what's needed. The Lenten season just passed, obviously, but you could perhaps contribute to the music costs for the next event on the church calendar. Depending on the church/choir director, you could maybe offer to hire a harpist or trumpeter or someone like that, as a one-time service.
posted by torticat at 2:22 PM on May 10, 2011

"Yep, if it's Catholic and you want to give cash, you should speak with the priest who will have complete control over the disposition of any official gift to the Church (he's required to follow the intent of the donor, but he doesn't have to accept gifts.)"

In the U.S. this should NOT be true anymore; parishes are supposed to have lay financial oversight and are responsible to the diocese's professional accounting staff. But the priest is still a good person to talk to.

We just called our parish and spoke to the secretary and asked what she thought was necessary (because in this case we wanted to thank a priest who'd done us a good turn). We ended up sending a classroom set of books that were badly needed in the parish grade school; they sent us a charitable receipt by mail some time later. Any official parish person -- priest, secretary, whomever -- should be able to guide you through their donation process and help you with a tax receipt if you require one.

If there's a school attached to the parish, in addition to the good churchy options mentioned above, you might donate something that the school music program needs. Especially if sharing music with kids was at all your MIL's thing.

BTW, you can also request a Mass be said for her, typically with some sort of donation, which would have pleased her if she was a devout Catholic and might please your husband as well.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:35 PM on May 10, 2011

a Mass be said for her - A special mass for a 30-year organist could well fill the church to the belfry.
posted by Ardiril at 4:31 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

The organ maintenance fund sounds ideal. In addition, many churches have a "special music" fund that's used to hire instrumentalists or vocal soloists for special occasions, as well as a fund to buy sheet music for the choir.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:55 PM on May 10, 2011

How about a donation for sheet music for the choir? Also, paying for instrumentalists at ones of the special services might be nice. Talk to the music director.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:05 PM on May 10, 2011

The music needs depends on the church -- but I bet regardless that they could find a good way to use anything you want to contribute even with a general restriction.

At my suburban Catholic church, we have no organ -- but we do have eight to ten (different!) musicians and vocalists at every Mass each weekend. The deacon who runs the music ministry has a very sophisticated set-up and a lot of gear, and I am *sure* that our pastor would be happy to accept funds that were specifically ear-marked for the music ministry's use. New hymnals, maybe, sure, but also bulbs for the projector, cables, music stands, &c., &c.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:49 AM on May 11, 2011

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