Stated Clerk

Stated Clerk: Rev. David Smith
PO Box 334, Montoursville, PA 17754


Job Description for Stated Clerk of Presbytery

What is a Stated Clerk?
[The following were remarks given by the Rev. Catherine G. Borchert, former Stated Clerk of the Western Reserve, at a meeting of presbytery Stated Clerks held in Pittsburgh.]

“Officers of each of the governing bodies shall be a moderator and a clerk” (G-9.0200).  Later, the Book of Order states that the clerk of the presbytery shall be called “Stated Clerk.”
Who or what is a Stated Clerk?  If you ask your friends, it’s someone no one knows!  Watch the blank stares if you should be asked what your job is!  Your answer may range from minute-taker to canon lawyer.
It is easy enough to say what a Stated Clerk does, but unless it is clear who we are, our work will always be a group of unrelated tasks.
In order to visualize the relation of the Stated Clerk to the other parts of the governing structure, we may use the example of the architect and the engineer.  The presbytery, the administrative staff, the program staff are the architects of presbytery program and business.  They have the ideas generated by a multitude of people and they have the will and the capacity to carry the ideas to fruition.
The engineer takes those ideas and helps the designers by showing them how, within the laws of physics (the Book of Order), those plans can be completed as buildings [programs within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)].  When the presbytery states what it wishes to do, the Stated Clerk is there to say how it can or cannot accomplish what it wishes.  The clerk’s position, thus, is vital, but not the most important.  The governing body acting as whole is the key.
The Stated Clerk of a governing body is one of only two offices required by the Book of Order, though other officers and administrative personnel are permitted (G-9.0700, G-11.0308) and are customary.  Yet the role of the Stated Clerk is ambiguous.  It is pivotal and yet wholly peripheral.  It is powerful, yet often only advisory.  It is central, but much time is spent in strictly housekeeping chores.  It is the job which can grease the wheels of the life of the church or throw sand on the track.
Because it is involved in process rather than program, it is a job that is anathema to some.  In the finest sense, it serves as a protector of the priesthood of all believers, as a prime connector in the connectional church, as the guardian of the history of a people who believe in the God of history.  The Stated Clerk is the servant of all and is responsible to all.

Record Keeping

Managing and Preserving Official Records for Congregations
Why Records Management | Steps in a Records Management Program
The denomination’s congregations create and use a large quantity of records during their years of existence.
These records take up expensive space and often take longer to find because they are kept in remote and crowded storage areas.
A records management program will:

  1. Help your staff control the creation, storage and length of time needed to keep your records.
  2. Provide an orderly and systematic destruction of non-permanent records that meets legal, fiscal, historical, and administrative requirements.
  3. Reduce costs associated with the storage of non-current (less frequently used) records.
  4. Improve retrieval of non-current records.
  5. Identify records to retain permanently because of their legal, administrative, or historic nature.
  6. Insure that valuable records are protected from premature deterioration and/or destruction.

The archives/records management staff of the Presbyterian Historical Society is pleased to help congregations find more efficient and less expensive ways of managing and storing information.

The Presbyterian Historical Society’s records management program for the national offices in Louisville saved the church $1 million in the first three years.

We will also provide advice on the best methods for preserving records of permanent value.

  • Records Inventory: Determining the types and scope of the records
  • Records Retention: How long each type of record should be kept
  • Records Disposition: Where to keep records used frequently, records used infrequently, and records no longer used
  • Records Preservation: The care of historic and permanent records

That servanthood and responsibility are carried out in many arenas, from the individual church members and individual ministers, to sessions, presbytery in its units as well as the whole body, other presbyteries, the synod and the General Assembly.  Most of these duties fall within the cliché of doing things “decently and in order.”
Implicit in these duties is a responsibility to be careful and caring; to further the work of Christ’s body, not cause it to come to a standstill; to protect the few from the many and also the many from the few, to do all that is possible in a quiet and consistent fashion.  If the clerk succeeds, the clerk’s position should be virtually unnoticed.
In some circles of our denomination there is a feeling that the clerk’s job is one that can be accomplished by training a secretary to do all the routine tasks that are required, or that the position can be combined with an office manager position to provide full-time employment for an individual.  This tends to deny the essential nature of the tension inherent in the clerk’s position.
The clerk must be steeped in Presbyterianism, understand almost intuitively the way in which the Holy Spirit can use our process to further the Kingdom.  The clerk must understand the letter of the law, and yet abide by the spirit of the law in order that the law itself not become a god.
The clerk operates in a position of being at once a team member of a presbytery, synod or General Assembly staff and being the judge of the actions of that staff.
In the way that the dual role of servanthood and counsel is understood and acted upon lies the gift of a clerk to the governing body of which he or she is a part.

Per Capita

From the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
What is per capita?
Per capita is one of the expenses related to being organized for mission in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is a responsible way of sharing costs that equitably belong to the whole Presbyterian community. In a connected, covenantal church such as ours, per capita helps to fund the foundational framework that supports the denomination’s mission at all levels. It also helps to fund the shared ecclesiastical, legislative, and judicial functions that identify a Reformed church.  What difference does it make for us to be connected beyond our own congregation?
Historically, Presbyterians have always understood that our work and witness for the gospel is more effective when we do it together, rather than separately. Together, we have access to a greater abundance of resources for doing mission, including time, money, and talents. Together, we also share the expenses of being organized for mission, thus providing for the infrastructure that supports our mission work.
What principles about per capita have guided the Presbyterian Church throughout its history?
The following principles have guided the church:
1. The payment of per capita apportionments by sessions is not mandated in the Book of Order.
2. At the same time, the Book of Order provides no right for sessions to withhold per capita as a form of protest.
3. While sessions are not obligated to remit per capita, presbyteries are required to do so when they have funds available. When faced with a session that is not paying its apportionment, the presbytery is required to visit with the session to determine the cause.
Where do per capita dollars go?
The amount that is set for per capita apportionment is a calculation based on the number of church members and the budget established annually by each governing body. At the presbytery, synod, and General Assembly levels, per capita pays for a number of items, including the following: meetings of the governing body (including commissioners’ expenses), the office of the stated clerk of each governing body, committees and commissions that carry out the ecclesiastical functions of the governing body (including committee on ministry, committee on preparation for ministry, nominating committee, committee on representation, permanent judicial commissions, etc.), and costs to administer the mission work of the governing body (insurance coverage, legal counsel, accounting and financial services, communication efforts, etc). Per capita also funds our ecumenical work and relationships.
In summary?
Together, as a covenant community, we share both benefits and responsibilities with one another. One of the responsibilities we share is per capita, which pays for the system that allows for congregations to address their hopes and concerns to the whole church. Paying per capita is a tangible and faithful way of supporting our connections with one another so that our witness to the world in the name of Jesus Christ is visible and vibrant.


?It may be helpful for a session to know that each item in the current General Assembly per capita apportionment was made by normal parliamentary process, like any other motion or action, and approved by majority vote at the General Assembly (Book of Order, G-4.0301e). Your presbytery can provide a brochure with a line-by-line breakdown of the per capita budget.
In 2002, just over ninety-eight percent of per capita was remitted by the presbyteries to the synods and the General Assembly. Since the General Assembly receives per capita payments directly from the presbyteries, the GA does not know what percentage of Presbyterian sessions withheld per capita.
The per capita apportionment that will go to the General Assembly is allocated in the following manner:
It pays for the expenses of a General Assembly meeting, which includes travel, room, and board for elder and minister commissioners. It also includes costs for facilities, the publishing of reports and materials for commissioners, and the minutes of the assembly meeting.
It pays for the Office of the General Assembly (OGA), which provides most of the logistical support for a General Assembly meeting and staff services to the Moderator of the General Assembly. The OGA publishes the minutes and reports as directed by the elected commissioners. It sends out letters and publishes policy statements adopted by the assembly. It publishes The Book of Confessions and the Book of Order. The OGA staff provides support, resources, and training to the officers of presbyteries. The OGA represents the denomination in national and international conversations and it maintains the Presbyterian Historical Society.
It pays for the General Assembly Council and the administrative expenses of its executive offices. It pays for our relationships with ecumenical groups, which include the National Council of Churches of Christ, the World Council of Churches, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
It pays for the permanent and special committees of the General Assembly, such as the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. The final
It goes toward shared support services and a reserve for uncollected per capita payments.
The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly is the highest ecclesiastical officer of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Standing Rules of the General Assembly (G.2.e) places on the Stated Clerk the responsibility to issue “advisory opinions concerning the meaning of the provisions of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).” Advisory Opinion #9 on per capita payments is available from your presbytery or online at
Occasionally, the Stated Clerk will receive a letter from a session informing the Clerk of the session’s decision to withhold per capita based on a supposed action of a particular General Assembly. Many times, the language in the letter indicates misunderstanding and misinformation. To help correct misunderstandings, presbyteries can provide sessions with the actual language, policy, or action to which objections are being made.

If, after receiving such information, a session still believes that a particular policy or General Assembly statement is in error or that the inclusion of a particular item in the per capita budget is inappropriate, the session may request the presbytery (G-10.0102p6) to overture the next General Assembly to modify that policy, statement, or item as desired by the session. Unless or until such changes are made, the session is obligated to seriously consider its responsibility to remit its per capita apportionment, which represents a tangible expression of the covenant that binds us together as Presbyterians.

Advisory Opinion #9 – Per Capita

According to the Organization for Mission:”Per capita apportionments are an opportunity for all communicant members of the Presbyterian church through the governing bodies to participate equally, responsibly, and interdependently by sharing the cost of coordination and evaluation of mission, 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.”
Yet since its inception, the notion of per capita has generated disagreements. Sessions have claimed such payments were absolutely voluntary; presbyteries have insisted they were obligations. No General Assembly or General Assembly Judicial Commission has declared that withholding per capita to further political/theological agendas is ever justified. Nor has any General Assembly or General Assembly Judicial Commission ever declared that presbyteries had the legal right to enforce payment of per capita as a legal obligation. In fact, each declaration by the assembly and its commission always notes both as true.
From our study, we conclude three principles:
1. The Book of Order does not mandate the payment of per capita apportionments by sessions.
2. The Book of Order provides no right on the part of sessions to withhold per capita as a form of protest.
3. When faced with a session that is withholding per capita, the presbytery is obligated to:
a. remit per capita when it has funds available
b. visit with the session to determine the cause of the withholding.
We believe these principles have guided the church throughout its history.
I.  Historical Practice and Understanding
The earliest reference to per capita our office has located comes from a 1734 statement to ministers: it is unaminously [sic] agreed by all the members of ye Synod, yt every Ministr. Shall either seasonally propose the affair, and read the Synod’s Lettr. To their respectivie Congregations and appoint a Day for a publick Collection, if there be occasion for such a Step to carry on ye Design, or oblige themselves to pay out of their own proprer Estates ten shillings into the Fund; and yt every Presbry take Care yt their respective members observe an ord. Made in year 1736. This principle was reaffirmed in a 1755 deliverance by the Synod of Philadelphia that: it is inconsistent with our church government [for the General Assembly] to be under the check or prohibition of a church session; they [the session] indeed may give or withhold their charity, but may not prevent a minister to propose it publicly according to our appointment.
The next reference is found in the 1806 Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, which declared:
That whereas it is manifestly inequitable that those parts of the church which will not contribute to the important object of these resolutions, should receive benefit from the contributions of others, if it shall appear that any Presbytery has been manifestly inattentive to the duty herein enjoined so that the congregations generally within its bounds shall not have raised their reasonable proportion of the sum necessary to constitute the commissioners fund, the commissioners from Presbytery shall, for the year in which such manifest inattention and deficiency shall appear, receive out of the commissioners fund only the sum which they shall have contributed.
It is clear that this declaration was addressing willful withholding, as the 1806 Assembly continued:  At all times, however, the General Assembly will make a candid allowance for those circumstances of any Presbyteries or congregations, which ought in equity abate the expectations of much pecuniary aid from their exertions.  This distinction has always existed in our polity and practice.
II.  That Two-Hundred-Fifty-Year-Old Understanding Is Still Our Understanding
In 1976, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (UPC) in Westminster Church v. Presbytery of Detroit, while finding that the presbytery had exceeded its authority in removing the pastor and replacing the session for refusal to remit per capita, observed:
When Presbyteries, synods, and the General Assembly meet, they are conducting the legislative or judicial business of the Church and incur necessary expenses. There are also necessary administrative expenses involved which enable these legislative and judicial functions to be performed. All these expenses should be shared throughout the Church because every one who is a [Presbyterian] shares in the benefits of this system of government.
Willful refusal to contribute, however, is symptomatic of serious problems within a congregation or session, whether they be financial, theological, or stem from a lack of understanding or appreciation of the connectional nature of our denomination.
The next time per capita came before the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission was in 1986 in the case of Buonaiuto v. First Presbyterian Church. In that case, an individual member had sought to prevent his session from remitting his share of its per capita apportionment. The commission ruled:  [P]reventing one governing body of the church from carrying out its rightful responsibilities to another governing body lies outside the rights of an individual member.
In 1992, the General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial Commission once again faced the issue in Session of Central Presbyterian Church v. Presbytery of Long Island and decided that a presbytery could not “punish” a session for failure to remit per capita; yet the commission noted: Appellant [session] asserts its right to protest as a matter of conscience. While affirming this, this Commission believes that there is also a ‘duty of conscience” to support the ministry and mission of the church. Our system provides mechanisms by which grievances may be addressed that are in harmony with the Historic Principles of Church Government (G-1.0400) and the Principles of Presbyterian Government (G-4.0300). While they are not always the most expedient or may not always produce immediate results, using such procedures preserves the integrity of the system and often effects desirable changes.
The Commission also noted that:
While freedom of conscience is preserved, it is to be exercised within certain limits (G-6.0108b), and officers promise to be governed by the polity of the church and abide by its discipline (G-14.0207e; G-14.0405b5).
In 1998, the General Assembly instructed its Moderator to “communicate with each presbytery failing to meet its apportionment.”
In 1999, the assembly determined:
[A] presbytery has the responsibility to remit per capita allocations to synod and General Assembly, even though a congregation does not pay the per capita allocated to it by the presbytery?. as long as funds are available within the presbytery.
In 2002, the General Assembly reaffirmed our historic understandings when it urged the presbyteries “(1) to partner with those churches who struggle financially to pay per capita, and (2) to work pastorally with those sessions who choose to withhold per capita.  To sessions it said, “Individual sessions are reminded that to withhold per capita puts at jeopardy the connectional and covenantal nature of our church that is affirmed by our ordination vows.”

In 2003, the General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial Commission once again faced the issue where it also declined to modify our historic understanding. It struck down a presbytery’s attempt to mandate collection of per capita “?because G-10.0102i gives a session the power to determine the distribution of a church’s ‘benevolences.'”
Yet even in finding this policy outside a presbytery’s authority, the commission advised:
Therefore, while our Constitution does not technically permit presbyteries to make per capita mandatory, we are necessarily bound together as a covenant community through our union to God Almighty in Jesus through the Holy Spirit (A Brief Statement of Faith, C-10.4, lines 52-57). Thus, there is a high moral obligation based on the grace and call of God to participate fully in the covenant community. Full participation includes time, talent, and treasure (G-10.0102h; W-5.5004). Moreover, all officers are obligated, by virtue of ordination vows (G-14.0207i; G-14.0405b(9)), to participate fully in the life of the Church. To participate partially or not at all and yet claim to be within the covenant community represents a grievous misunderstanding of our reciprocal covenantal obligations under the singular Lordship of Jesus (The Second Helvetic Confession, C-5.124-141). In other words, we are called to turn from the sin of individualism run rampant and embrace the covenantal community in which our Lord Jesus has called us to live as those who love as we have been loved (John 13:34). Therefore, withholding per capita as a means of protest or dissent evidences a serious breach of the trust and love with which our Lord Jesus intends the covenant community to function together (G-7.0103).
III.   Advice to Presbyteries
When addressing a session that is withholding per capita, a presbytery has an obligation to make a determination as to the cause of the withholding.
A personal visit is most often appropriate.
If withholding is based on financial difficulties, the presbytery needs to assess what is the cause (demographics, dissatisfaction with pastor, etc). A presbytery has the opportunity and responsibility (G-11.0103b) to visit the session and ascertain why it believes itself unable to remit its proportionate share of per capita. A committee on ministry team will often be the appropriate group to undertake such a visit and subsequent care and support.
If the withholding is politically or theologically motivated, again the presbytery should meet with the session. Our office occasionally receives letters from sessions informing us of their decision to withhold based on some supposed action of a particular assembly. The language in the letters often indicates misunderstanding and misinformation. On its initial visit, the presbytery should be prepared to provide the actual language, policy, or action that the session believes itself objecting to. Never assume the session is operating with accurate information. If that does not help alleviate the session’s anxiety, the presbytery has permission to provide a copy of this Opinion to the session, that it may understand its rights and responsibilities.
Since apportionment of per capita always apportioned by vote of the presbytery, it may also be helpful for the presbytery to provide the withholding session with a copy of the action taken by the presbytery apportioning per capita payments to member churches.  Point out to such sessions that the decision to apportion was made pursuant to the presbytery’s G-9.0404d powers, by majority vote (G-4.0301e) If vote count is known, this is often helpful information for the session, in that the session will understand the decision to apportion was made by normal parliamentary process, like any other presbytery policy.
In all contacts with withholding sessions, the presbytery should take care to deal pastorally and respectfully and expect reciprocal attitudes.

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