Changes announced to proposed per capita increase


A request for a sizable increase in General Assembly per capita in 2019 and 2020 is being scaled back — having encountered significant opposition at the grass roots of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for being more than congregations financially can bear.

J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the PC(USA), issued an announcement May 30 that he will recommend a reduction in the proposed per capita increase. Nelson said he will request a 10 percent increase in both 2019 and 2020 – from $7.73 per member in 2018 to $8.50 in 2019 and $9.35 in 2020.

The request already submitted to the 2018 General Assembly was for a 39 percent increase in 2019, to $10.71 per member, and a 7 percent increase in 2020, to $11.45 per member.

Both the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Board voted in February to ask the assembly to approve that increase and to submit a proposed per capita budget of $15.5 million for 2019 and $15.8 million for 2020 (up from $14.2 million in 2018).

It was clear, however, that that big an increase would face opposition. In April, a group of 40 mid council leaders released a statement urging the assembly to vote down the proposal, saying that it felt like “taxation without representation” and that the number of congregations not remitting per capita was going to dramatically increase.

Nelson announced his revised per capita request via a news release. That news release cited as reasons for revising the request “a combination of resistance from mid council leaders and a persistent lack of understanding” in the denomination regarding how per capita is spent.

The news release did not address a potential polity issue: whether Nelson can revise the request on his own, or needs some sort of approval from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

The request to revise the per capita increase apparently will go as a comment to the assembly’s General Assembly Procedures committee, which is considering the original request for a per capita increase. So it’s not technically a new item of business, but a comment from Nelson with a recommendation for change on a proposal already before the committee.

The news release also indicates that if the assembly approves the 10 percent per capita increase Nelson now is seeking, the Office of the General Assembly likely would not need staff cuts immediately – although by 2021 it would have spent all its unrestricted reserves.

Here’s the May 30 announcement regarding the revised per capita request, by Jerry Van Marter:

LOUISVILLE (OGA) – A combination of resistance from mid council leaders and a persistent lack of understanding in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) about how the General Assembly per capita apportionment is spent has resulted in a revised request from General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II, for a 10 percent increase in the per-member apportionment in each of the next two years – to $ 8.50 in 2019 and to $ 9.35 in 2020.

The original proposal from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly to the upcoming 223rd General Assembly sought a 39 percent increase in the 2019 General Assembly per capita from $7.73 to $10.71 and an additional  7 percent increase in 2020 to $11.45. All matters related to the per capita budget will be considered by Assembly Committee 03 – General Assembly Procedures.

“I convinced the increase in per capita will strengthen our connectional system,” says General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II. “I believe in our connectional system, where the strong help the weak, where small churches can be helped by those who have been blessed with more. Per capita provides us with the opportunity to walk alongside those who have less than they need.”

Each council above the session approves a budget and sets a per capita apportionment rate. Presbyteries are responsible for collecting per capita and passing appropriate amounts to their synod and the General Assembly.

The General Assembly Per Capita budget ($14,214,859 in 2018)provides the primary source of funding for the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). It also funds administration of mission for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (currently about  11 percent of the per capita budget) and shared services (paid to PMA, about  12 percent of the per capita budget). Thus,  about 23 percent of the per capita budget is spent outside OGA.

General Assembly per capita funds:

  • General Assembly operations including all expenses related to the biennial meetings of the General Assembly;
  • all expenses related to staff support to the Assembly;
  • permanent and special committees and commissions created by the Assembly;
  • 62 percent of the budget of the Presbyterian Historical Society (the remainder comes from fundraising and reserves);
  • compiling and maintaining records, statistics and history-Louisville;
  • ecumenical allocations and support (World Council of Churches, World Communion of Reformed Churches, National Council of Churches and Church World Service and Christian Churches Together in the USA)
  • Communications and technology
  • Constitutional interpretation
  • Ordered ministry (mainly Church Leadership Connection, examinations and ruling elder training resources) and certification
  • Mid council relations
  • Office of the Stated Clerk administration
  • Human resources
  • Office of the Moderator of the General Assembly
  • Office expenses
  • New initiatives (such as the Hands & Feet campaign)
  • Presbyterian Mission Agency administration
  • Shared services (paid to Presbyterian Mission Agency)
  • Contingency fund
  • Uncollectible apportionments

The General Assembly has mandated that OGA maintain a reserve amounting to 30 percent of the annual budget.

Kerry Rice, OGA deputy stated clerk, said he believes OGA can absorb the reduced per capita request without reducing staff. “This is risky, a leap of faith,” he said. “By 2021 we’ll have no unrestricted reserves left so decisions will have to be made by then about what we can and cannot do. We’ll find out what the PC(USA) expects of the Office of the General Assembly.”

Nelson and Rice hope that some clarity will emerge as a result of recommendations coming to this Assembly from the Way Forward Commission and the All-Agency Review Committee, as well as an overture from Newton Presbytery that asks for a comprehensive study of the entire funding system for the denomination, including per capita.

A number of face-to-face conversations have been scheduled between Office of the General Assembly and mid council leaders. The first was held May 24 at Princeton Theological Seminary. Additional sessions are set for June 2 at Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pennsylvania; June 5 at Nashville (Tennessee) Korean Presbyterian Church; and June 6 at the Presbyterian Mission Center in Irving, Texas.