Proposed amendment to delete ‘chastity/fidelity’ may impact per capita contributions

Congregations angered by the 213th General Assembly's controversial recommendation to lift a ban on gay and lesbian ordination are expected to protest with their pocketbooks in the coming months, withholding contributions to the Presbyterian Church's per capita budget.

The per capita budget funds the Office of the General Assembly, the annual Assembly meetings and related programs. This year, churches are charged with contributing $4.98 for each member. Those contributions are projected to rise to $5.25 a person in 2002, with 5 cents of that to fund programs approved in the 2001 Assembly.

Totaling about $13 million in 2001, the per capita budget is only one-tenth the size of the denomination’s $136 million mission budget, which funds most of the church’s programs. But it is a much easier target for church members’ frustrations, because while the mission budget has dozens of funding sources, the per capita budget comes almost solely from the per-member apportionment, and sessions can vote to withhold contributions from an entire congregation at once.

“There is great concern about the impact on the budget,” said Frank Kearney, an elder commissioner from Palisades Presbytery, who chaired the Mission Coordination and Budgets Committee at this year’s Assembly. “My greatest fear is about the unity of the church.”

The Assembly this year disapproved an overture that would have made it mandatory for congregations to send in their per capita contributions “unless excused by the presbytery.” In a comment, the group said, “We urge sessions to contribute per capita especially in seasons of disagreement, uncertainty and controversy.”

In a typical year, congregations fail to send in less than 2 percent of the budget. The largest amount withheld was about $300,000 in the early 1990s, around the time of the controversial Re-imagining conference.

The Office of the General Assembly has already received about half of contributions for 2001, so the 2002 budget could be the first to take a major hit if congregations do withhold funds. The budget contains little room for reallocating funds without reducing the amount of funds held in reserve, currently required to be 30 percent of the annual budget. The projected 2002 budget contains $4.41 million in reserve, just a few thousand dollars more than what is required.