An Overview of Per Capita:  Where Does Your Money Go?

PART I:  Why Do We Have to Pay?

Is it a Matter of Conscience or a

Matter of the Heart?

Blessings to all in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ.  As PMRV continues 2019 and works toward 2020, we continue programmatic and policy practices; we also introduce new ones.  One program we continue to promote is STEWARDSHIP. Giving is a biblical and theological concept that has existed since the days of Adam and Eve, Jacob/Israel, David/Solomon, and continued through the model of Jesus Christ, Lydia, Paul the Apostle, and onto this day.  Stewardship takes on many forms and is an act of faith and a practice of the heart.  Stewardship is NOT only about money; it is a demonstration of faith, love, and Christ’s model in the world.  In other words, STEWARDSHIP IS HOLISTIC.

Our PCUSA website shares a good history of per capita and its purpose.  An article on that website states that “the earliest mention of something like a per capita apportionment dates back to the 1700s.”  In later years, namely in the 1800s, the Presbyterian Church accepted a “plan of mileage” that helped to defray the costs for commissioners to attend meetings of General Assembly.  In that way, everyone could participate even if distance and/or financial resources were challenges.   (Adapted from the PCUSA website:

Our denomination describes per capita as being used to fund “ecclesiastical and administrative functions that are shared by the whole church.  In 1995, the following definition was developed: “Per capita is an opportunity for all communicant members of the Presbyterian Church through the mid councils to participate equally, responsibly, and interdependently by sharing the cost of coordination and evaluation of mission; and of performing ecclesiastical, legislative, and judicial functions that identify a Reformed Church, while at the same time strengthening the sense of community among all Presbyterians.  (GA Minutes, Part I, 1995).  (Adapted from the PCUSA website: 

The article continues to explain per capita very effectively.  “In essence, per capita is a set amount of money (apportionment) per member that congregations pay to the larger Presbyterian Church USA.  Each Presbyterian shares in the benefit of the PCUSA’s system of government, so every Presbyterian is asked to share the expenses associated with coordinating and performing the functions of that system.”  (Adapted from the PCUSA website:

Most mainline denominations practice some form of “per capita”.  It may be called something different, such as “assessment”.  Some members of congregations even call it a “tax” that the larger church imposes.  Many of us work hard to move away from the use of a language that uses the term, “tax”.  One of the most faithful congregations that I served as pastor always called the per capita responsibility a “tax”; however, this church paid the per capita enthusiastically and without fail. 

Whatever the title, the purpose is the same.  Having grown up as a fifth-generation CME (Christian Methodist Episcopal Church) and having close family members who were/are pastors and bishops, I became quite familiar with “financial assessment” and “apportionment” as names for financial responsibility.  Our family took this responsibility seriously, and we always understood the term stewardship to be all-encompassing.  It meant just what we say now as Presbyterians; namely time, talent, and financial treasures.

The administrative work of the denomination had and must continue to take place; per capita, assessment, or apportionment was one major way.  In addition, the mission giving, or “benevolence” was essential in governance, community service work and mission projects. Many leaders have said, “It was merely the cost of being the Church”.  One gives a little, and all benefit. Becoming Presbyterian merely meant a transfer of certain terms:  the theology, general beliefs, and work are the same.

Each year all PCUSA members of congregations are asked to contribute by paying per capita for the good of the whole church system. The cost goes up a little each year, but all costs associated with business, life, service, and faith increase.  Each council of the PCUSA, namely, the GA, Synod, and Presbytery receives a share of the per capita amount paid by each member.  In that way, the work of the Church of Jesus Christ continues; this work also benefits all who are part of this denomination. 

The cost of being the Church.  There is something more; faithfulness to God in Jesus Christ is the first and foremost reason for providing support in the form of time, talents, and financial treasures.  The ministry of Jesus Christ was financed by faithful servant leaders, many of whom were women, who gave of their own time, talents, and treasures.  That model continues to this day. Faithfulness to God through our giving and our living enhances ministry for congregations, for communities, and for the wider world.  Per capita is an essential part of that theology and that practice.

One important part of the per capita process is this: each member is assessed the same amount.  In PMRV, the per capita for 2019 is $39.55.  Of that amount, $8.95 is set aside and sent to GA, $5.40 is set aside and sent to Synod, and the remaining $25.20 is used for PMRV.  We encourage each congregation to pay based on membership.  If each member pays per capita, the administrative costs for operating our Presbytery are realized, the cost of operating the synod is realized, and the cost of GA is realized.  This small amount of money per member of our congregations around the nation goes a long way and achieves great goals.  For your information, GA voted to maintain the same amount for per capita for 2020, $8.95.  PMRV is expecting to do the same, namely, to keep the amount at $25.20.  The Synod of Lakes and Prairies voted to increase only by $.10.  Ten cents is a minor amount for 2020.

Allow me to share a story with you from a time when I served as pastor of a fine congregation.  The church was relatively small, about 155 members at that time, very faithful, and very committed to mission, education, and financial stability.  Per Capita and Mission Giving were top priorities in the congregation.  This church was comprised of members who were financially solvent, for the most part.  Church leaders remained aware of those families in the congregation who were struggling financially.  When we held stewardship campaigns and per capita/mission giving promotions, our members would quietly stop by the office, have coffee with me, write checks for their per capita responsibilities, and then would write another check and say, “This is a per capita payment for (name of member/s)…….  This payment remains anonymous and (name of member/s)……. is not to know how or by whom this per capita payment was made.”  That is one way this church addressed mission giving, per capita, and building campaigns.  What a joy to have served such caring people.

Your Stewardship of Resources Committee (“SOR”) goes to great lengths to support the presbytery’s responsible handling of funds.  I meet with this committee monthly, review how our resources are being received and being spent, and how we can support our congregations.  The reason that we engage in this practice is because all of you are precious to the staff and leadership of PMRV.  Your congregation’s growth, sustainability, health, and “wealth” are crucial in every way.  You are especially precious to Jesus Christ. We shall do everything in His Name and for His Glory. Therefore, the operations of the denomination depend upon our ability to use the funds we receive in a responsible manner.  We owe you that, and we owe God that. Most importantly, we must receive those funds so that the operations may continue. 

When one really gives thought to the per capita process, $39.55 is a small amount for the operation of the Church of Jesus Christ.  One can spend more than that attending movies, dinner, and/or an evening with friends.  This small amount of money that is divided among three councils of the PCUSA assures the work and continuation of ministry.

This past weekend, PMRV and Homestead shared a joint presbytery gathering as we do each year. One of the exciting events was the presence of Co-Moderator (Rev.) Cindy Kohlmann.  Her excitement about the ministry of Christ Jesus, her travel around the world promoting Christ through the PCUSA, and her vision for expanded ministry brought a renewed energy for all. We are in the process of researching the calendar of Co-Moderator Vilmarie Citron Olivieri for a visit to PMRV.  Each Co-Moderator is a grand gift to the Church of Jesus Christ.  Co-Moderator Kohlmann shared the essential nature of “seeing” what we are being called to do for Christ; “seeing” more than our immediate surroundings; “seeing” from our hearts.  When we engage in ministry beyond ourselves, we “see” more thoroughly and faithfully how Christ is and wants to be at work in the world through us. 

Engagement in ministry includes per capita as a means of supporting ministry and providing resources to enhance the work of Jesus Christ.

Encourage your members to provide per capita to the Church each year.  If you would like resources or additional discussion about this crucial work of our denomination, please contact me at the PMRV Office.  I will be available.

Part II of this theme, “Per Capita” accompanies this letter; Part III, entitled, “A Matter of the Heart” will be completed later this week, and it will be placed on the PMRC website along with the first two.  All three letters on per capita will be sent electronically to our pastors, church leaders, committee members, and clerks of session.  Part II addresses stewardship, and per capita is an essential part.  Stewardship is an important aspect of ministry. 

Blessings to All,

In Christ,

Mary Newbern-Williams

Rev. Mary Newbern-Williams

Executive Presbyter