A Lesson from Aretha Franklin for the Church

Article Type: Pastor to Pastor

By Rev. Phillip Leo, Church Communications Director

It was a shocking truth only brought to light in the recent days since her passing.

A headline from the New York Times broadcast the news: “Aretha Franklin Died Without a Will, and Estate Issues Loom.”

Wait. What? There wasn’t a single person in Aretha Franklin’s life who pulled her aside and said, “I don’t care if you don’t want to deal with this. You’re getting a will!”

Not one? No family member? No friend? Sadly, nope.

Amanda DiChello, a lawyer quoted in the New York Times article, notes that a surprising number of celebrities and wealthy people die without a will. “It’s easier not to address it,” she says. “Then it costs oodles and oodles of money to handle the mess after the fact.”

No kidding.

Truth is, I don’t think this is just an issue for celebrities and the mega wealthy. Try to imagine a conversation at your church about a will. Is it even possible?

The topic of a will is intensely personal, and asking someone if they have one seems nosey. What business is it of mine if someone has a will or not? I should just keep to myself… right?

Besides, families are supposed to be checking to make sure wills are in place and updated. Or at least good friends are doing that… right?

Statistically speaking, they probably aren’t.

When people die without a will, it’s more likely a failure of those around them to care courageously. This is care that refuses to make assumptions; that names the elephant in the room; and that has difficult conversations when needed.

Since caring without flinching is a hallmark of life in Christ, these conversations are not just possible at church, but to be expected. In this context, it’s not difficult to imagine overhearing a believer sincerely asking another, “But what about a will? Do you have one in place?”

Certainly, this question doesn’t get asked every day and of every one. It’s always part of a conversation that requires sensitivity and discernment. It’s still intensely personal.

But the point is that this question gets asked. And it gets asked because it’s the church… right?

Few church members will receive fame and accolades the way Aretha Franklin did during her lifetime. But every believer, no matter how meager their circumstances, can be afforded care from another believer who, in Jesus’ name, says to him or her, “Let’s make sure you have a will.”

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Rev. Phillip Leo is the Church Communications Director at Barnabas Foundation. Read Phil's online bio.