Big check - Donald Cathy, senior vice president of Chick-fil-A, speaks at the HIllcrest Church of Christ in Decatur, Ga. Contributors, including Chick-fil-A employees, gave a combined $1 million to the church's building fund in memory of Donald A. Perry, a church elder and vice president of public relations for Chick-fil-A who died July 27. At right are Cathy's wife, Cindy, Perry's widow, Marilyn, and the church's minister, Richard Barclay.
That’s the amount the Atlanta-area church received toward its $5.2 million renovation project, which will include a 1,500-seat sanctuary and new facilities for its education program and offices.
Much of the large donation came from the National Christian Foundation. Headquartered in nearby Alpharetta, the organization "is the largest Christian grant-making foundation in the world," according to its website.
Contributors, including Chick-fil-A employees, gave funds in memory of Donald A. Perry, who served for 15 years as an elder of the Hillcrest church.
Perry, vice president of public relations for Chick-fil-A, died July 27 of a heart attack. He was 60.“I’ve never seen anything like the cloud that settled over the congregation” after Perry’s sudden, unexpected death, said Ernest Holsendolph, a member of the Hillcrest church and editor of its newsletter.
The large donation, which places the church’s renovation project “on the brink of success,” was equally unexpected, Holsendolph said.
Cathy, one of the sons of Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, had previously told the church’s leaders that they would receive a donation of $250,000 toward the project, Holsendolph told The Christian Chronicle. Church leaders invited Donald Cathy and his wife, Cindy, to the congregation’s Sept. 9 worship service to show their appreciation for the gift.
When the couple arrived, Donald Cathy told the congregation that the donation had quadrupled to $1 million.
The contribution was a welcome tribute to Perry, who had spearheaded the church’s renovation project, Holsendolph said.
“For all his business success, (Perry) said his most challenging work — and most satisfying — was in the church,” said Holsendolph.
Holsendolph once interviewed Perry about his ministry as a church elder, to which Perry replied, “I’m still learning … but the consuming challenge is to try to keep brothers and sisters on the same page, pulling together for Christ, in an environment that is so diverse in so many ways.”
Perry’s death received national media attention due to the public relations firestorm surrounding comments by Chick-fil-A’s president and Donald Cathy’s brother, Dan Cathy, who told a Baptist newspaper that he backs “the biblical definition of a family.”
Gay rights groups called for a boycott of Chick-fil-A. They also criticized the National Christian Foundation, which has received donations from the WinShape Foundation, the charitable arm of Chick-fil-A. Both foundations give grants to organizations that oppose gay marriage, according to gay rights groups.
Chick-fil-A representatives — including Perry — denied that organizations supported by WinShape harbor an “anti-gay” agenda. In a statement released to media, Perry said that the focus of Chick-fil-A’s corporate giving is “toward compassion, principally by serving youth and families.”
Despite the stresses of Perry’s career, “he didn’t bring his work over here,” said Richard Barclay, senior minister for the Hillcrest church. In his job, “he didn’t speak for the kingdom. He spoke for Chick-fil-A.”
After Sunday worship, Perry’s widow, Marilyn, thanked the Cathys for the generous donation and said she hopes that the gift will be a unifying force for church members as they reach out to their community.
“Let us all come together — even former members who have moved away,” Marilyn Perry said. “Come together because we have work to do in this community.”
“Let us keep faith with Don,” she added. “He really loved this church.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION on the Don Perry memorial fund, see www.hillcrestcoc.net.
Hillcrest Church of Christ, Decatur, Ga.
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