Collections in church at Funerals, Memorial Services and Services of Thanksgiving
Churches often invite the congregation at funerals and other services to make a contribution to church funds. However, families may also ask for a collection to be taken for a named charity in memory of their loved one.
Church of England regulations strictly limit the amount of parochial fees that a church is permitted to charge for a funeral. Some additional expenses (e.g. heating) may be charged at cost, by agreement with the family. However, there may be some hidden costs for which the church is not allowed to charge. Some churches may choose to take up a collection to help offset these costs.
From time to time, difficulties have arisen in connection with these collections. The following guidance is for funeral directors and church officials and is based on a legal opinion published by the Church of England.
Who decides if a (retiring) collection is to be taken?
A collection can only be taken with the consent of the minister taking the service.
What can the collection be used for?
The purposes to which collections at funeral or thanksgiving services are to be allocated must be determined by the PCC jointly with the incumbent or priest-in-charge. (In the rare case of disagreement, the diocesan bishop may give directions cf. section 7(iv) of the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956).
It is good practice for the PCC to have an official policy specifying the share (if any) of a retiring collection that will go towards church funds. The PCC may also have a suggested list of other charities that a family can choose from. Alternatively, the PCC may agree that a retiring collection can go to other charities and causes nominated by the deceased's family. Note that the officiating minister cannot agree to such requests without the authority of the PCC. A large church may appoint a PCC sub-committee to decide on requests that are made.
Occasionally, the incumbent or priest-in-charge may consider it appropriate for pastoral reasons to ask PCC to vary the usual collection policy. This should be done with the agreement of the PCC before the service.
Good communication is essential
The question of a collection at the funeral should be discussed by the officiating minister in a pastoral visit ahead of the service, and agreed in advance with a representative of the immediate family.
If there is to be a retiring collection for the general purposes of the church or a specific church project or an outside organisation, this must be made clear to the congregation. There should be an announcement about the collection at an appropriate point in the service, together with an explanatory note in the printed order of service. It is also helpful to display a card identifying the beneficiary/ies at the point of donation.
Who can take the collection?
The churchwardens are the proper officers to make the collection, either alone or with the aid of the sidespeople or other persons selected by them. Collections can be taken according the usual custom of the local church, using collection plates, bowls, or boxes. At least two people chosen by the churchwarden should count the collection. The officiating minister may ask a representative from the family to join the sidespeople in counting the collection to receive any personal messages.
Card readers can be very useful for retiring collections -- an increasing number of people don't carry cash or cheque books -- but churchwardens should ensure that card readers are handled only by individuals trained and authorised in their use, and with the prior agreement of the family.
How should the collection be recorded?
All collections taken in a Church of England church building or within the curtillage of the church (i.e. porch or churchyard) must be processed through the PCC bank account. Retiring collections cannot be taken away by funeral directors or family members.
The PCC must keep accounts of all monies so collected. The PCC Treasurer is the responsible officer for this purpose.
If the collection is made for the benefit of the church / PCC, then it should handled in the same way as any other service collection and recorded in the church register. If it is for a particular church project, then it should be treated by the PCC Treasurer as restricted income.
If the collection is for, or to be shared with, a non-church charity such as Help for Heroes, the money should not be recorded in the church register as church income. Instead, the PCC will be acting as a collecting agent on behalf of the charity or organisation. The PCC should bank any cash collection and cheques payable to the PCC, and then transfer the amount due to the designated charity or organisation as previously agreed with the minister and family. (Clearly, any cheques made payable to a non-church charity should not be banked by the PCC, but passed directly to that organisation.) The PCC Treasurer should ensure that the family is informed promptly of the total collection raised and transferred, as appropriate.
Any Gift Aid claimed in relation to the collection must follow the purpose of the collection. Where Gift Aid envelopes are received in favour of a charity, they should be passed on, unopened to the charity.
Money placed in alms boxes are to be applied to such uses as the incumbent or priest-in-charge and PCC think fit. (If they disagree, the Ordinary (usually the bishop) is to determine the disposal of the alms.)