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Decision No. 151

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October 16 1958
In Re: Request from the Wisconsin Annual Confer- ence Relating to the Payment of Parsonage Utility Bills as Affected by the Provisions of Section 6 of Paragraph 1624 of the 1956 Discipline

Digest of Case

The adoption of a rule by an annual conference authorizing Official Boards to pay in whole or in part such parsonage utilities as heat, light, gas, telephone and water, the amount paid not to exceed the actual cost of such utilities and requiring that the amounts paid shall be reported in an appropriate column in the statistical records of the minutes is not in conflict with the provisions of Paragraph 1624, section 6, or any other provision of the 1956 Discipline.

Statement of Facts

On the 7th day of September, 1958, the Secretary of the Judicial Council received the following communication from William V. Stevens, Conference Secretary of the Wisconsin Annual Conference: September 5, 1958 "Rev. Ralph M. Houston 112 Long Drive Hempstead, New York Dear Brother: "As Conference Secretary I was instructed by vote of the Annual Conference to seek from the Judicial Council a ruling as to whether the following rule would be contrary to the provisions of Paragraph 1624, section 6, or any other provisions of the Discipline: "'Official Boards may provide for the payment, in whole or in part, of parsonage utilities (including heat, light, gas, telephone and water), the same not to be considered or reported as salary. The amount in any case not to exceed the actual cost of such utilities. Such utility items shall be reported in an appropriate column in the statistical records of the Minutes.' "I shall appreciate your caring for this matter for us, and your informing us of your decision. Most sincerely, /s/ William V. Stevens William V. Stevens" JURISDICTION While the communication does not use the specific words - "declaratory decision" the Judicial Council believes it is correct in assuming that the above and foregoing communication is a request for a declaratory decision and under the provisions of sub-section 8 of Paragraph 914 of the 1956 Discipline it has jurisdiction to render a declaratory decision on the question submitted. ANALYSIS Paragraph 1624, section 6, of the 1956 Discipline reads as follows: "It shall not be permissible for a pastor to receive a bonus or other supplementary compensation tending to defeat proportional payment. Failure to comply with this section shall be deemed disobedience to the order and discipline of The Methodist Church. The Conference Board of Pensions may recommend to the conference that the pastor's annuity claim be disallowed for the year during which such bonus or supplementary compensation was so received." A question similar to the one involved in this matter was before this Council in Decision No. 51, rendered on May 3, 1948. In that case the Council held that "an allowance for 'travel expenses' to pastors is not to be regarded as supplementary compensation tending to defeat proportional payment under the terms of Paragraph 1624 (Discipline 1944) providing always that such item represents an actual expense for the purpose stated, and is not a cover-up for additional salary paid to the pastor." The Council in Decision No. 51 apparently adopted the definition of "bonus" stated by Dr. Thomas A. Stafford, then Secretary of the Board of Pensions (Illinois Corporation) to wit - "it (bonus) does not have any reference to a man's expense account. It is an additional payment on salary that is concealed through some conspiracy or arrangement between the people on the local charge and the pastor so that he receives more salary than he reports, the idea being to keep down the apportionment for conference claimants. That is all that is involved. It does not involve expense accounts or anything of that kind." An examination of the Disciplines of The Methodist Church for the years 1944, 1948, 1952 and 1956 reveals that the provisions of Section 4 of Paragraph 1624 of the 1944 and 1948 Discipline are identical. Identical language is used in Section 5 of Paragraph 1624 of the 1952 Discipline. The language used in Section 6 of Paragraph 1624 of the 1956 Discipline is also identical with the language used in the 1944, 1948 and 1952 Disciplines, except that the words "The Conference Board of Pensions" is used instead of the words "The Board of Conference Claimants." This change in no manner affects the meaning of said section. Our conclusions above stated is supported by Par. 829 of the 1956 Discipline which states that "the total of all travel, automobile and other expenses allowed and paid to a pastor in addition to his salary shall be reported for insertion in the journal of the Annual Conference in a separate column from that of the pastor's salary and adjacent thereto. . . ." This Council holds that the language used in this paragraph would also cover such parsonage utility expenses as are listed in this matter. This Council therefore concludes in this case that since there has been no material change in this particular section of the Discipline since the rendering of Decision No. 51 the proposed rule set forth in the communication from the Wisconsin Annual Conference does not violate the provisions of section 6 of Paragraph 1624 of the 1956 Discipline. This Council reaffirms the conclusions reached in Decision No. 51 and states that in the legislation on this subject matter in section 6 of Paragraph 1624 of the 1956 Discipline, as well as in any future legislation relating to the same, it should be borne in mind that every case must be decided on its own facts and that the rule to be applied is whether or not any "expense" item, no matter what the same includes, is intended to be a cover-up for additional salary or compensation paid the pastor.

Decision

It is therefore the decision of the Judicial Council that a rule adopted by an Annual Conference authorizing Official Boards to provide for the payment, in whole or in part, of parsonage utilities (including heat, light, gas, telephone and water) the amount paid not to exceed the actual cost of such utilities, and providing that such sums need not be reported as salary, but must be reported in an appropriate column in the statistical records of the minutes, is not in conflict with the provisions of Section 6 of Paragraph 1624 of the 1956 Discipline or any other provision of said Discipline.

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