Proposed per capita increase will go to General Assembly

LOUISVILLE – With no debate, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted Feb. 9 to approve a sizeable proposed increase in General Assembly per capita – from $7.73 per member in 2018 to $10.71 in 2019 and to $11.45 in 2020.

That would amount to a 39 percent increase from 2018 to 2019 and a 7 percent increase from 2019 to 2020. The proposal now will go to the 2018 General Assembly in June in St. Louis for its consideration.

Ken Godshall, who is chair of the board and a pastor from Kentucky, had voted against the proposed increase Feb. 8 when it came before the board’s executive committee, saying the increase is “a very large amount” and “I would appreciate a different, less aggressive per capita proposal for the church to embrace.”

But the next day, Godshall encouraged the board to vote for the proposed increase, so that the General Assembly can decide if it’s right for the denomination. The board did so. The proposed increase is controversial – with some Presbyterians saying their congregations and mid councils simply can’t afford it.

On Feb. 8, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) and the board’s executive committee voted 10-7 to approve the proposed increases. But that vote was split, with COGA voting 9-0 in favor (with one abstention) and the executive committee voting 7-1 against.

The standing rules say that the proposed per capita rate needs to be a joint recommendation from COGA and the board.  If the board had voted the proposal down, the matter would have gone to a Per Capita Joint Table – with three representatives each from the board and COGA – to see if that table could reach a common recommendation to the General Assembly.

If the per capita table did not reach consensus, the proposed per capita budget would have gone to the 2018 General Assembly for its consideration, with comments from each agency.

By voting to approve the proposal, the board avoided that process and sent the matter directly to the assembly.

J. Herbert Nelson, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made a case to the board for why the increase is the right thing for the PC(USA) – practically and theologically.

“If every Presbyterian simply gave one (more) dollar a month it would meet the budget … to make this a turnaround denomination,” Nelson said. “One dollar a month” beyond what they are already giving outside of per capita. “Presbyterians are not poor people.”

Nelson spoke of the need to support mid councils and of Presbyterians in local churches who are determined to be “faithful people who made a difference. I think that is the challenge for the whole denomination. Don’t forget the key word in that sentence. A faithful group of people. … This is not a question of whether we have enough. It’s a question of whether we are faithful.”

Nelson ended with this: “God woke us up this morning. What are we willing to give in return?”

In addition to considering this proposed increase, the General Assembly likely will discuss the per capita system itself and denominational funding more broadly.

The Presbytery of Newton has sent an overture asking the General Assembly to create a team to review the financial sustainability of the PC(USA)’s current per capita funding system.

The Way Forward Commission is considering recommending that the assembly appoint a 12-person committee to provide a comprehensive analysis and projection of national church assets and income for a financial sustainability review, with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2019.

And the All Agency Review Committee is working on language for a possible recommendation regarding a denomination-wide self-study of the per capita funding system.