From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Presbytery cannot base financial support for

Date Thu, 15 Apr 2004 11:52:00 -0500

Note #8198 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

April 15, 2004

Presbytery cannot base financial support for churches on per capita
participation, says synod PJC

by Leslie Scanlon
The Presbyterian Outlook
Reprinted with permission

LOUISVILLE - Heartland Presbytery cannot require congregations to make per
capita payments and mission pledges to be considered for loans or other
financial support from the presbytery, the Permanent Judicial Commission of
the Mid-America Synod has ruled.

The synod judicial commission ruled April 3 that the Constitution of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provides "that the session (of a congregation)
has sole responsibility to distribute the gifts of the people" and that
Heartland's policy, adopted in June 2003, had a "coercive force" that was not

Heartland's policy was challenged by two pastors, A. Kirk Johnston and Laurie
Johnston, and by the session of the congregation Kirk Johnston pastors, First
United Presbyterian Church, Paola, KS. Laurie Johnston serves as stated
supply at Hillsdale (KS) Presbyterian Church.

For years now, upset first by the Reimagining God Conference in 1993 and
later by other denominational decisions, First United church has withheld
part of its per capita payment in disagreement with the course the PC(USA)
has taken, and has used that money to support specific mission programs the
session there considers worthwhile.

Heartland Presbytery's policy stated that only congregations that have "full
participation" in the life of the presbytery, including making per capita
payments, would be eligible to get help from the presbytery in receiving
grants or obtaining loans. And without the presbytery's backing it would be
difficult for a congregation to get a loan for construction or to buy land,
because, in the PC(USA) system, church property is held in trust by the
presbytery for the benefit of the denomination.

But in July 2003, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission ruled
that presbyteries cannot require sessions to pay the per-member assessments -
paying per capita is strongly encouraged, but technically still is voluntary,
the denomination's highest court ruled.

That decision also stated, however, that withholding payments "as a mean of
protest or dissent" is "a serious breach of the trust and love with which our
Lord Jesus intends the covenant community to function."

The ruling of the Mid-America Synod PJC cited that decision and concluded
that "a church may neither be compelled, nor punished for failure, to pay per
capita apportionments" to the presbytery.

The judicial commission also ruled, however, that it would not sustain the
allegation that Heartland Presbytery's policy "mutes the rightful witness to
higher governing bodies" of a congregation deciding for itself how to spend
the money that people from the congregation give.

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