Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 43
April 22 1947
In Re: Bishop Costen J. Harrell's Decision at North Alabama Annual Conference on Whether or Not the Annual Conference May Exclude Retired Members From Service on Boards, Commissions and Committees
Digest of Case
A Standing Rule of an Annual Conference adopted according to Paragraph 631, Discipline 1944, which provides that "a retired minister may not serve on a Quadrennial Board or Commission," is not contrary to the Constitution.
Statement of Facts
BISHOP'S RULING On October 26, 1946, Bishop Costen J. Harrell, presiding over the North Alabama Conference, in response to a request made by W. F. Price and others, rendered the following Episcopal ruling: Under the provisions of Paragraph 631, 1944 Discipline, an Annual Conference may adopt Standing Rules for its procedure that are not contrary to or in violation of the Constitution and legislation of the Church. In the exercise of the rights granted under the said Paragraph the North Alabama Conference had duly adopted certain Standing Rules which are published on Pages 3 and 4 of the Journal of the Conference (1945). Among them is the following: "A retiredminister may not serve on a Quadrennial Board or Commission." Rule 11, Art. (2). In open session of the said Conference a request for an Episcopal decision, signed by seven members of the Conference, was presented as follows: "First, What rights, privileges and powers are taken from a Traveling Preacher when he is given the retired relation, "Second, Since the General Conference prescribes the conditions for becoming an Elder, can an Annual Conference deprive a retired minister of his legal right to serve on Boards, Commissions, and Committees? "(This last question deals only with a legal right and not the question of expediency.)" Paragraph 367, 1944 Discipline, defines the status of a retired minister as follows: "A retired minister is one who, at his own request, or by action of theAnnual Conference, upon recommendation of the Committee on Conference Relations, has been placed in the retired relation." Paragraph 368 states that when a member of an Annual Conference is duly granted a retired relation by his Conference he is retired from the active ministry." By these provisions we conclude that a retired minister is relieved of active duty and responsibility in the exercise of his ministerial office. Service on a Quadrennial Board or Commission is an active duty and responsibility. The status of a retired minister is clearly established in the law and practice of the Church. The Conference and the duly constituted appointing powers of the Church cannot require a retired minister to serve a church or pastoral charge. He may with his consent be appointed as a Retired Supply (Paragraph 370), in which case he serves as a Supply Pastor and the rule governing his appointment is as in Paragraph 316. Neither can a retired minister demand of the Conference and the duly constituted appointing powers a church or pastoral charge, else his retirement would have no meaning. The Chair rules that since service on a Quadrennial Board or Commission is, as the pastorate, an active duty and responsibility, the same rule applies, and a retired minister cannot demand of the Conference appointment on the said Boards or Commissions. The law of the Church grants to the Annual Conference the privilege and responsibility of- naming the members of its Boards and Commission, with certain directions and restrictions (Paragraphs 778, 1282, 1441, 1471, 1558, 1581, etc.), and it may decline to name any or all of its retired ministers on the said Boards or Commissions. Therefore, it is ruled that Rule 11, Art. (2) as quoted above is not contrary to the Constitution or legislation of the Church nor to its procedure and intent; that it is in harmony with the rights granted the Annual Conference by the Discipline; and that the said Rule 11, Art. (2) is properly a part of the Standing Rules of the North Alabama Conference. s/d Costen J. Harrell October 26, 1946 (Page 48, Journal of the North Alabama Conference of The Methodist Church, 1946.)
This ruling has been properly certified to the Judicial Council and is now regularly before the Council for review. Without adopting as a whole the language used in the decision, but passing solely upon the conclusion expressed by Bishop Harrell in his ruling, the Judicial Council hereby affirms said ruling. Attention is called to the fact that question "Second," reading as follows: "Second: Since the General Conference prescribes the conditions to becomean Elder, can an Annual Conference deprive a retired minister of his legal right to serve on Boards, Commissions and Committees? (This last question deals only with a legal right and not the question of expediency) " assumes that retired ministers have a legal right to serve on Boards, Commissions and Committees. With this assumption we cannot agree. They may so serve provided the Annual Conference so directs. Paragraph 631 of the 1944 Discipline provides that an Annual Conference may make rules to govern its own procedure "provided that no Annual Conference shall make any rule contrary to the Constitution or to the powers granted it by the General Conference." We find no constitutional prohibition against an Annual Conference adopting a method of procedure, by rule or otherwise, under which only members in the effective relationship may serve on Boards, Commissions and Committees. Article II, Section VII of the Constitution (Paragraph 22, 1944 Discipline) provides that "It" (the Annual Conference) "shall discharge such duties and exercise such powers as the General Conference under the Constitution may determine." The General Conference, as set out in Paragraph 631 of the 1944 Discipline, and quoted above, has given to the Annual Conference specific authority and power to make rules for its own procedure, and the Conference Rule No. 11 quoted in Bishop Harrell's opinion is in harmony with that authority. Dr. W. G. Henry voted a dissent to the foregoing decision. April 23, 1947. Concurring Decision The procedure of the North Alabama Annual Conference in setting up Rule 11, Article (2) among its Standing Rules, the questions propounded to the presiding Bishop of the session of said Conference in 1946, and his answer, raise some questions as follows: (1) From what is a preacher retired? Bishop Harrell quotes Paragraph 367 verbatim: "A retired minister is one who, at his own request, or by action of the Annual Conference, upon recommendation by the Committee on Conference Relations, has been placed in the retired relation." This, as is readily seen, gives no concrete definition of what the "retired relation" consists. He then paraphrases Paragraph 368 as follows: "Paragraph 368 states that when a member of an Annual Conference is duly granted a retired relation by his Conference, he is 'retired from the active ministry.'" The fact is that a preacher falling into the category covered by this paragraph is not "granted a retired relation by his Conference." According to this Paragraph his Conference has neither voice nor vote in the matter. He is "automatically retired" by a law passed by the General Conference of 1940 and adjudged Constitutional by an 8 to 1 vote of the Judicial Council of that year. (See Judicial Council Decision 7.) The Bishop seems to base his argument largely on the phrase, "retired from the active ministry." The fact is that such a phrase is used only in the Paragraph which provides for an automatic retirement by age-limit, and would not necessarily apply to the preceding Paragraph under which by far the larger number of ministers retire. Nevertheless, I think we may take the Bishop's conclusion, viz., that a "retired minister is relieved of active duty and responsibility in the exercise of his ministerial office," as approximately correct as respects both those retired "by action of the Annual Conference upon recommendation of the Committee on Conference Relations" and those "automatically" retired. That is to say, a preacher is retired from the itinerancy; he is retired from the obligation to move from place to place according to the appointing power of a Bishop; he is retired from any and all positions to which otherwise a Bishop might have a right to appoint him, i.e., the pastorate, a professorship in a school, etc., etc. (See Paragraph 432). In a word, a retired preacher is one who has suffered a change in the ministerial relation he bears to his Conference, in that he has been removed from the "effective" list and placed on that of Superannuates. It follows as a natural corollary that he is relieved of the "duties and responsibilities" of the position from which he is removed. It is a matter which has to do solely and entirely with his relation as a minister. This brings us to another question: (2) What does a retired preacher retain? It goes without saying that he retains his license to preach and his orders (deacon and/or elder). But he also retains his membership in the Conference. An Annual Conference has a right to terminate the membership of any one of its members by: (a) Conviction of immoral conduct. (b) Voluntary location. (e)Involuntary location. (d) Surrender of ministerial office. (e) Withdrawal. No one of these processes is carried out in the superannuation of one of its members. The retired minister remains responsible to the Conference for his conduct, and must submit annually to the passage of his character, just as the effective one. While he has been relieved of the duties and responsibilities of his former ministerial relation, he has retained all the duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges of his Conference membership. It is just here that confusion seems to arise. Ministerial relationship is one thing; Conference membership is another. With this in mind, the question seems to be: (3) Whether an Annual Conference has a right to set up a Standing Rule which excludes from service on its Quadrennial Boards and Commissions those of its members who fall within a given ministerial relationship? I am compelled to concur in the answer of the majority of this Judicial Council. Neither a retired preacher, nor one in any other ministerial relationship, has an inherent right to serve on some Board or Commission. No one has such a right. As Bishop Harrell so aptly says: "The law of the Churchgrants to the Annual Conference the privilege and responsibility of naming the members of its Boards and Commissions, with certain directions and restrictions." It is not under necessity to name, in whole or in part, the members who fall under any group of ministerial relations, but may exclude any bloc which it thinks either incompetent or deserving of relief from the active duties of both the ministry and membership. I think the "Standing Rule," referred to above, is legal, but I am equally sure that it is of doubtful propriety. The entire spirit of Methodism leads it to deal with its ministers as individuals, rather than as blocs or groups. An applicant is licensed to preach as an individual; he is received on trial into the traveling connection as an individual; he is received into full connection as an individual; he is ordained a deacon and/or an elder as an individual; he is granted a sabbatical leave as an individual; he is granted a supernumerary relation as an individual; he is granted a superannuate relation (except in the case of those falling under Paragraph 368) as an individual; he must annually pass an examination of character as an individual. For an Annual Conference to set up legislation whereby it deals with its ministerial members as groups or blocs, seems to me to lean toward bureaucratic, rather than democratic, procedure. I join with the majority of the members of the Judicial Council in affirming the decision of Bishop Harrell, but I do so regretfully, remembering a saying of St. Paul's: "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient."