Port Greville, N.S.
At a time when many churches are struggling to meet their financial obligations it's hard to conceive of a moment when over-generosity could have been an issue.
But in a recent interview recalling the genesis of the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund, retired Bishop of Nova Scotia Leonard Hat field said the spontaneous and overwhelming response by Anglicans to emergency appeals in the 1950s often left the church scrambling for ways to allocate donations.
"There were several cases where the generous offerings outstripped identified needs, but because it had been collected for one designated project, it couldn't be reassigned to another, no matter how urgent," he recalled.
As an example he said a 1953 campaign for flood relief for England and the Netherlands raised $170,000. Several years after the crisis had passed, the Archbishop of Canterbury was still trying to get remnants of the fund allocated.
By 1958 there had been four emergency appeals in five years and Bishop Hatfield, then head of the church's national social services committee, said it was clear the $15,000 set aside annually in a philanthropic fund was woefully inadequate in light of world needs.
"Experience showed that money given in the hours and days after a crisis were the most effective, but we had very little on hand. Each time there was a crisis we had to inaugurate a new appeal and there was always a delay before donations were available for use."
Reviewing stacks of folders crammed with documents from the time, he said the issue came to a head in October 1958 when Anglicans and other Canadians rushed to help the families of 167 coal miners from Springhill, N.S. who died after being trapped three miles underground.
A national appeal raised $103,000. It was more than required, but it could not be touched even when the executive council of General Synod asked that some of the leftovers be used to help families of New Brunswick fishermen who were lost in a gale just a few weeks later.
"The funds were raised for a specifically designated cause and couldn't be touched," said Bishop Hatfield. "It was embarrassing."
But it also underscored the need for the establishment of a continuing fund that would allow the church to make an immediate and appropriate response in times of distress.
Bishop Hatfield's social services committee went to work and at General Synod in 1959 it presented plans to establish the Primate's World Relief Fund. The idea received tremendous support and within 18 months the new agency had offered $152,000 worth of support to eight projects.
Church documents from the time are quick to praise Bishop Hatfield for his role in setting up the fund and acting as its first secretary. …