Per Capita

Do you know when the Presbyterian church first started asking congregations to contribute Per Capita? It was in 1807. There were only 13 colonies at that time, and the General Assembly met in Philadelphia every year (it moves around the US now). Those traveling far distances to attend the GA were obviously burdened with greater cost than those living in relative proximity to Philadelphia. First, a request was made to presbyteries close to Philadelphia to contribute to the travel expenses of those living further away. That request was denied. The next year General Assembly approved an overture to begin collecting Per Capita from every presbytery in order to equalize the cost of all commissioners attending GA.

Grayde Parsons (I love that name), our General Assembly Stated Clerk, shared that story as he spoke to an overture before our committee. In essence the overture asks the General Assembly to approve a request that Teaching Elders (The Book of Order’s official title for 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”. The motion to approve the overture passed, and will now go to a vote of the whole General Assembly.

Teaching Elders are not members of the congregation that they pastor. They are members of the Presbytery in which they pastor. Thus the overture seeks to include Teaching Elders in the opportunity or responsibility to participate administrative costs of the church by pay paying per capita. I voted against the overture. I am not opposed to Teaching Elders paying. In fact I pay the voluntary per capita amount that we ask members of our congregation to pay. I voted against it because I was opposed to the wording “to assume the moral responsibility …” Per cap it is not a moral responsibility. I have never told any member of our congregation that it is their moral responsibility to pay the per capita. It is a benevolence offering, and the Presbyterian Church’s Permanent Judicial Commission has also ruled that per capita is a benevolence offering on the part of members of local congregations. It is not my way of saying I don’t want to pay per capita. I do it gladly. Neither is it a question of semantics or splitting hairs. I do not want to lose the meaning of paying one’s per capita as a benevolence, a gift, generously given by either a member of the congregation or a Teaching Elder.

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