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Per-capita issues will again be considered by the General Assembly

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GA logo longThe Layman

It seems that every Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly has to deal with business items related to per capita – the amount of money, per member, that each church pays to the presbytery, synod and GA – and this summer’s assembly is no different.

Overture 005 from Detroit Presbytery asks for an amendment to the denomination’s constitution that would allow presbyteries to limit their payments of per capita to synods and the General Assembly – and it has the support of seven other presbyteries.

Beaver-Butler, Lehigh, Muskingum Valley, Northumberland, Upper Ohio Valley, Washington and Western Colorado presbyteries have all concurred with Detroit’s proposed amendment to G-3.0106, that reads: [Text to be added is shown as italic.]

“Each council above the session shall prepare a budget for its operating expenses, including administrative personnel, and may fund it with a per capita apportionment among the particular congregations within its bounds. Presbyteries are responsible for raising their own funds and for raising and timely transmission of per capita funds to their respective synods and the General Assembly. Presbyteries may direct per capita apportionments to sessions within their bounds, but in no case shall the authority of the session to direct its benevolences be compromised. Where a presbytery has directed per capita apportionments to sessions, and sessions do not submit their full assessments, the presbytery may remit to the synod and General Assembly only those per capita finds actually received.

In an Advisory Opinion, per capita is described as the annual amount of money a church pays per member to its respective presbytery. The amount is a combined total of funds requested by the church’s presbytery, synod and the General Assembly.

PCUSA congregations have long had the freedom of not paying their per-capita apportionments to the presbytery, synod or General Assembly, because per capita is seen as a benevolence, and according to the denomination’s constitution, the session has the sole authority to determine how a congregation’s benevolences are distributed.

The PCUSA’s highest court – the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission – ruled in Session of Central Presbyterian Church vs. Presbytery of Long Island that a church may neither be compelled to pay nor punished for failure to pay any amounts assigned by a per-capita system. That understanding of per capita has been upheld in subsequent GAPJC decisions and by various General Assemblies.

However, in 2010, the GA commissioners approved an authoritative interpretation requiring presbyteries to remit synod and General Assembly per capita “even if the presbytery lacks sufficient funds to pay its own expenses.”

Detroit says in its rationale that increasing numbers of congregations are not paying per capita as a way of protesting actions of the General Assembly.

“For presbyteries, per capita is not a benevolence, it is a required payment that is an increasing burden,” states Detroit’s rationale. “Since presbyteries are required to pay the full apportionment to higher governing bodies from their mission budgets when not received from the churches, the effect is to reduce the amount available for the mission of the presbyteries to their own regions.

Many presbyteries have made “serious cuts to their budgets, laying off staff, drawing on their reserves in order to pay their full per capita apportionment,” it reads.

“In 2010, 50 presbyteries did not pay their per-capita apportionment in the amount of some $950,000. Sixty-seven presbyteries did not pay their full 2011 per capita payments in the amount of $1,220,037.50. Records show that 40 of those presbyteries specifically said they are paying only what was received. One presbytery said it just did not have the funds,” the rationale reads.

It continues, “Since 39 percent of presbyteries paid 2011 per capita only what they have received or can afford – up from 29 percent the year before – the effect is that those presbyteries that are loyal to the rules of our polity are penalized. To remove the penalty for faithfulness seems equitable. Moreover, where it is forbidden for presbyteries to require the payment of benevolences from their churches, it also should be forbidden for higher governing bodies to require presbyteries to pay per capita from their benevolences, which is exactly what is done when presbyteries must take from their mission dollars to pay per-capita assessments.”

 

Asking teaching elders to participate in per capita

In Overture 003, the Presbytery of Albany asks the assembly to issue a request to all PCUSA teaching elders – pastors – “to assume the moral responsibility of participating in the administrative costs of this church by paying per capita each year, as other church members do, being assessed by their presbyteries of record.”

The Office of the General Assembly’s statistics shows that there were 21,064 teaching elders in the denomination in 2011.

Albany’s rationale states that presbyteries do not assess per capita for teaching elders who are members of the presbytery in the same manner in which they do church members.

“As a matter of parity, teaching elders should be participating in the burdens of the administrative costs of our self-governing polity,” states the rationale.

 

Per capita no longer a benevolence?

A third overture has been submitted to the GA but at this time has not received the required concurrence from another presbytery, so that it can be considered by GA commissioners. A Book of Order amendment went into effect in 2013 requiring all overtures to have to have at least one other presbytery’s concurrence before they will be referred to the General Assembly.

Overture 52 from Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery asks for the Book of Order to be amended so that congregations are required to pay per capita. The amendment would declare that per capita “shall not be considered a benevolence of the particular congregation, but rather its expected participation in the stewardship of the mission of the whole church.”

The eighth paragraph of G-3.0106 would be amended to read: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

“Each council above the session shall prepare a budget for its operating expenses, including administrative personnel, and may fund it with a per capita apportionment among the particular congregations within its bounds. Presbyteries are responsible for raising their own funds and for raising and timely transmission of per capita funds to their respective synods and the General Assembly. Presbyteries may direct per capita apportionments to sessions within their bounds, but and while in no case shall the authority of the session to direct its benevolences be compromised, per capita shall not be considered a benevolence of the particular congregation, but rather its expected participation in the stewardship of the mission of the whole church. A presbytery may reduce a particular congregation’s apportionment for one year if paying the full per capita apportionment would cause an exceptional financial difficulty.

In its rationale for the overture, Upper Ohio Valley quotes from another part of G-3.0106: “[t]he funding of mission similarly demonstrates the unity and interdependence of the church. The failure of any part of the church to participate in the stewardship of the mission of the whole church diminishes that unity and interdependence.

Upper Ohio Valley then says, “If that is indeed the case, then the failure of sessions to participate in the stewardship of the mission of the whole church ought not be left unchecked. It is a matter of good stewardship, an acknowledgement of the interdependence of the members of the body of Christ, and a matter of church discipline, which our Book of Confessions calls the third note of the true church (The Scots Confession, 3.18). If all of the councils of the church ‘share with one another responsibilities, rights, and powers,’ then the session cannot consider a ‘benevolence’ that which all other councils must consider an administrative financial obligation.”

The 221st General Assembly will be held June 14-21 in Detroit, Mich. The official GA web site can be found here. The Layman’s coverage of the 2014 GA can be accessed here.


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