The year-end financial report for our Presbytery in 2014 recorded 37 congregations that paid 100% of their Per Capita for that year. The same report recorded 4 congregations that paid some Per Capita, but less than 100%, and 7 congregations that paid none of their Per Capita. As of April 2015, 18 of our congregations have paid none of their Per Capita for the year.
Pause: If you don’t know what the term “Per Capita” means, then go here before you keep reading! WWW.PCUSA.org/section/departments/per-capita
No one likes to talk about their money. But anyone who has a job, owes a bill, or pays taxes knows that we have to talk about the stuff. What we do with our money reflects our spiritual priorities. That principle holds for our choice to spend money on pasta, gasoline, or video games; it holds for our choice to spend money on a newer smart phone or the food pantry; and it holds for our choice to spend it on Per Capita or seven fancy hot drinks (that’s about what our $31.81 per person duty equals). And the spirituality of spending applies both to our family households and the household of Christ’s Church.
So we’ve got to talk about it.
To the congregations that faithfully pay their Per Capita every year: Thank you, and we thank God for your commitment! Those dollars support the administration of Presbytery, the Synod of the Northeast, and the nuts-and-bolts of the General Assembly. Your faithfulness allows us to have the gifts of Christine Rogalski, the technology to publish Thursday Thoughts and Presbytery “papers” online, and the (underpaid) dedicated hours of our Stated Clerk. So much of the work of the Presbytery is done by Elders giving uncompensated time, but so many of the gears would not move without Per Capita dollars.
To the congregations that are not paying their Per Capita: I know that there are reasons.
One congregation has withheld Per Capita to make a statement of conscience to the Presbytery. I believe that change is enabled more by commitment than by deprivation; and opting out of a sworn obligation can have the opposite effect on a community like the Presbytery. Nonetheless, Sessions have the final say in the payment of Per Capita.
One congregation has expressed its desire to pay Per Capita, but is concerned that burdens of debt make that impossible. Other congregations probably view their annual budgets with similar anxiety, and the first cost to be cut is Per Capita payment.
Some congregations may not designate Per Capita giving, and after all the other bills are paid the amount left for Per Capita falls short.
I get it.
I also believe that recognizing a gap in Per Capita faithfulness offers an opportunity to remember and re-educate our congregations about our real commitments to the Church.
If Per Capita is burdensome because there are 200 people on the membership roll (a responsibility of $6,362 per year Per Capita), but only 35 people in worship, then the Session should talk about how to make the membership roll accurately reflect the present commitments of members. If your congregation’s budget has an income line for Per Capita, but you find that only 10% of your members give to it, then the Session should talk about how to empower all members to designate giving (only $31.81/year) early in the year. (This would also be a good opportunity to talk about giving in general: the scriptural benchmark is 10% of one’s income; American Christians consistently average less than 5% in their annual giving.) Maybe Per Capita difficulties are the tip of an iceberg regarding how your congregation deals with the spirituality of money. If your congregation, as a whole, really can’t afford $31.81 per person per year, then maybe a conversation is in order about how your bills fit your mission priorities. It will be a hard conversation, yes, but well worth it.
In my own life, I hate paying for car repairs. They seem to come up all the time, they’re always more expensive (and expansive) than I hope, and bringing the bad news home always fills me with fear. But when our vehicles are in good repair, I can appreciate all the things they make possible. Consider the alternative: Should I tell my family they can’t go to softball practice, an annual doctor’s visit, or to church because I haven’t budgeted well, or don’t want to work that hard, or want to protest against the hourly wage of auto mechanics? I don’t think failing to pay for our transportation would affect my family in the way God wants.
Here we are, half-way through 2015. If your Session has not had a conversation about Per Capita for this year, get talking. It’s money, not rocket-science. And it is about discipleship, faithfulness, and the life of the wider Church.
As always, if I can be of service in this matter, get in touch with me.
In Christ with You,
"The Presbytery of Susquehana Valley
lives to serve and encourage congregations
as we together seek to be faithful
in our calling to Jesus Christ."
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