The 223rd General Assembly meets from June 16-23 in St. Louis, Missouri. Central Florida Presbytery will be represented by six commissioners and one Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD). In a future eNews article, I will share an overview of what I consider to be the top issues coming before this Assembly. This month I want to focus on one issue that will be towards the top of the list and has been getting considerable attention online and in the church press: per capita apportionment.
I feel like, as a public service, I should issue a wake-up call in connection with this subject. Per capita is not the most exciting of subjects, even though it is an excellent example of our unity in Jesus Christ and commitment to do mission in his name. For $16.75 in CFP, the Presbyterian Church on three levels goes to work for us for one year. For 2018, the levels are $7.52 Presbytery, $1.50 Synod, and $7.73 GA. As a comparison, I recently spent over $16 on a fast food lunch for Sharon and myself, and over $21 to fill my car with gasoline. I do things like that way more than one time per year!
But when per capita is in the “news,” it is usually in a negative light. So it is this year, as the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) and Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) are recommending an increase of $2.98 for 2019, and another $0.74 for 2020. This amounts to a 38.55% increase for 2019, and an additional 6.91% for 2020. (See the accompanying box for per capita increases since 2001. Perhaps you saw an article in the Presbyterian Outlook where 40 of my colleagues signed onto a statement raising concerns about this proposed increase. I was not asked to sign it and would not have done so. I am concerned about some of the language in the document, which seems to border on being inflammatory (“taxation without representation”). Also, as a member of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, I need to stay out of such controversies in case we need to advise the General Assembly on anything related to this issue.
What the GA likely will need to wrestle with is why this amount of increase at this time. There are two groups currently working that will be making reports to the General Assembly, The Way Forward Commission and the 2020 Vision Team. The latter group, which seeks to identify a common vision for the GA’s mission moving forward, is making a progress report this year, with the final report due to the 2020 Assembly. It seems premature to be making such a large increase to per capita when these committees have not finished their work. One of our guiding principles as Presbyterians is that “Mission determines the forms and structures needed for the church to do its work” (G-3.0106). Should we not first determine what our mission priorities are going to be moving forward? (Should the GA be a resourcing body to congregations and presbyteries? A programmatic body performing mission that congregations, presbyteries, and synods cannot do alone? A combination of these? Something else?)
On the other hand, the proposed increase could be what our denomination is starting to look like after all the controversies and departures of recent years. In response to declining memberships and income, the Office of the General Assembly has made major reductions in staff size over the past five years. Whenever I am in Louisville, as I was in March, I am struck by how many offices and cubicles that used to be filled are now empty. Are more cuts needed? Or, have we cut too far to provide the services needed by presbyteries and congregations? What services are essential? Are there any that can be eliminated?
There are no easy answers to these, and undoubtedly, more questions. If you want to dig deeper into this issue, the Office of the General Assembly has created a narrative budget for 2019, which can be viewed here. (One drawback in this document is that it does not list the current budget levels, so it can be identified where the increases are.) There are also interpretative materials about per capita provided by the General Assembly, located here. Most of these materials are bulletin inserts that can be reproduced and provided to the congregation.
One conclusion that can be reached is this: we need to remember to pray for our Commissioners and YAAD as they meet in St. Louis and make decisions, keeping in mind that their bottom-line responsibility is not the bottom line of a budget, or “not simply to reflect the will of the people, but rather to seek together to find and represent the will of Christ” (F-3.0204). Our team headed to St. Louis in mid-June is listed below.
Dan Williams Executive Presbyter / Stated Clerk
GENERAL ASSEMBLY COMMISSIONERS (with committee assignments) Tony Boada, Ruling Elder, El Redentor PC -- Bills and Overtures Committee Dawn Neff, Ruling Elder, Orlando PC -- Middle East Issues Committee George Spaeth, Ruling Elder, Riverside PC -- BOP, PILP, PPC, and Foundation Committee Maynard Pittendreigh, Teaching Elder, Grace Covenant PC -- The Way Forward Committee Laura Viau, Teaching Elder, First Apopka PC -- Mid Councils Committee Michael York, Teaching Elder, First Vero Beach PC -- Theological and Church Growth Issues Committee
YOUNG ADULT ADVISORY DELEGATE (with committee assignment) John Daniel DeBevoise, Park Lake PC -- GA Procedures Committee (John Daniel’s committee is the one that will deal with the per capita budget)
OTHERS IN ATTENDANCE Susan Takis, Teaching Elder, Wildwood PC – Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations (Moderator) Paige McRight, Teaching Elder, Honorably Retired – Overture Advocate/Rules of Discipline Task Force (Moderator) Dan Williams, Teaching Elder, Presbytery Staff – Advisory Committee on the Constitution (Class of 2018)
Rev. Dr. Dan Williams Exectuve Presbyter/Stated Clerk