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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

It’s All About the Mission
May 24, 2018

This week’s letter is very different from my usual effort to offer inspiration and instruction for our shared ministry. But if you read through to the end, I trust you will find it useful and informative.

At its December meeting, presbytery directed that the Executive Committee call a special open meeting to discuss how we fund our mission as a presbytery. This meeting has been scheduled for 4:00 PM on Thursday, June 7, at the Presbytery Center. All ministers and elders are invited. There we will address in more detail the way in which our mission funding has evolved, both as a presbytery and as a denomination. What follows below is a brief overview of that story.

A broad shift in mission giving has taken place over the past forty years, from the majority of congregational benevolence giving being sent “upstream” to judicatories (presbytery, synod, general assembly), to the majority of congregational benevolence giving being designated to mission programs congregations choose. In Pittsburgh Presbytery, congregational benevolence giving to presbytery work has decreased by 90% over the past thirty years, while the total amount of congregational benevolent giving has remained steady. This shift is the primary reason our presbytery staff has been cut from 35 persons to 10 over the same period.

Our other two main revenue streams are investment income and per capita assessments. Income from those streams has also deteriorated. Per capita income naturally declines when total membership goes down, something we have tried to compensate for by raising the assessment modestly over the years. Our presbytery per capita assessment is still among the lowest of all presbyteries, thanks largely to our endowment income, which surpasses most presbyteries. Fifteen years ago, presbytery drew down our endowment substantially to pay for the purchase and renovation of our Presbytery Center, and to invest in new church development, congregational redevelopment, and urban ministry. This entails, of course, a corresponding reduction in our investment income.

Whether we receive funds through benevolent giving, per capita assessment, or investment income, all such funds enable us to accomplish our mission. They go into a single account from which all expenses are paid in accordance with the budget presbytery adopts annually. The June 7 meeting will enable us to understand better the way these three funding streams work together to help us accomplish what the Lord has called us to do.

Presbytery directed that our Business Office prepare and circulate two documents to help us prepare for the meeting. The first document is a statement indicating how much per capita the presbytery collects and remits to Synod and General Assembly. General Assembly has ruled that congregational contributions to per capita are voluntary, but presbytery payment of per capita to Synod and General Assembly is mandatory. This statement indicates that in 2017 presbytery remitted to Synod and GA nearly $46,000 that congregations did not pay.

The second document discloses the values of presbytery endowment and investment assets at the end of 2017. There are four categories of such assets – current cash in the bank, trust funds, designated funds, and funds held by the Pittsburgh Presbyterian Foundation. Altogether, they total $13.7 million, the majority of which lies in restricted funds.

One of our core values as a presbytery is transparency. Another is confidentiality. Sometimes those two values seem to collide. In this case, transparency is manifest in our sharing with you the details of presbytery’s finances, while confidentiality is preserved by making these documents available only through links sent out on this email. These documents will not be publicly linked on our website. Please do not share them with anyone other than our minister members or elders.

I look forward to a robust conversation on June 7 with all who are interested in how we fund our mission. If you have further questions about that meeting, or about these documents, please do not hesitate to direct them to me at ssorge@pghpresbytery.org. May the Lord help us find the best way to be good stewards of the treasure with which we have been entrusted!

Yours in shared mission,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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