George van Beek. As clerk of session for St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Cornwall, Ontario, George van Beek frequently got together for lunch with his minister, Rev. Fred Rennie, to talk over church business and share their mutual dreams for the church. It was during such a lunch conversation that the idea for the Experimental Fund was born. An engineer by profession and an entrepreneur in spirit, George was complaining between sips of coffee about “the way Presbyterians tend to do the same ol’ thing over and over again,” whether it bears fruit or not. “Why don’t you do something about it, George.” Fred suggested. “Why don’t you start some sort of fund to encourage Presbyterians to try something different!” And that is exactly what George did. In 1981, George established the Experimental Fund with an initial gift of $5,000 worth of stock. The Experimental Fund was designed as a permanent endowment with the annual income earned from the invested capital to be used to provide grants to encourage congregations, presbyteries and other agencies in the church to launch creative new ministries.
George and his wife, Evelyn, continued to give to the fund over the years. When Evelyn died, the Experimental Fund received a generous bequest through her estate, and after George died in January of 2011, the fund received additional money from his estate. Since its inception in 1981, the fund has provided more than $280,000 for over 120 projects. And after having given more than $280,000 away in grants, there is still more than half a million dollars invested and growing in the fund itself—money that will keep generating more money and new ministries year after year for generations to come.
George’s will stipulated that the name of the fund be changed to the Avondbloem Experimental Fund after his death. “Avondbloem” means “evening flower,” and refers to a flower that blooms in the late afternoon and evening—an apt name for a fund that George began after he retired and a beautiful symbol for the many ways we can continue to make significant contributions to the church and its ministry in our senior years.
George and Evelyn are both deceased; a tombstone marks their grave. But the fund they established in their evening years continues to blossom and grow. Last year alone, the fund provided nearly $25,000 in grants for twelve experimental projects across Canada. Such is the power of planned giving.