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Decision No. 343

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October 06 1971
In Re: Authority of an Annual Conference in the Admission of a Lay Pastor to Associate Membership.

Digest of Case

An Annual Conference, by vote of its ministerial members in full connection and upon recommendation of its Board of the Ministry, has the authority to admit to associate membership a full-time lay pastor who has given full or part-time service, which the conference equates to the disciplinary requirement of four years of full-time service.

Statement of Facts

The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference has requested a declaratory decision as to the correctness of the action of its ministerial members in full connection in voting into associate membership a lay pastor, 58 years old, who applied through its Board of the Ministry for associate membership. The applicant met all the disciplinary requirements except that he had served only one year as a full-time lay pastor. Prior to that, he had served more than twenty years as a part-time lay pastor, serving churches while he also pursued his career as a public school teacher, from which he has now retired. The conference Board of the Ministry recommended admission on the premise that one year of full-time service preceded by this long period of satisfactory part-time service in the conference more than equated to four years as a full-time lay pastor. The conference approved this recommendation and voted associate membership. Thereafter, the Annual Conference voted to request of the Judicial Council a declaratory decision as to the propriety of its action. This request was voted at an executive session of the ministerial members and was affirmed in a plenary session of the conference. JURISDICTION Jurisdiction is based on Paragraph 1715 of the 1968 Discipline. ANALYSIS We are asked to advise whether an Annual Conference, acting by its ministerial members in full connection, has the authority to equate years of part-time service as a lay pastor with full-time service in determining eligibility for associate membership (see 1968 Discipline, Par. 323). An Annual Conference is the basic body of The United Methodist Church and, as such, the Constitution of the Church reserves to it: "the right to vote on ... all matters relating to the ... conference relations of its ministerial members ... with the exception that the lay members may not vote on matters of . . . conference relations of ministers." (1968 Discipline, Par. 37) With this broad constitutional grant, it is well within the authority of an Annual Conference to make a judgment, as this conference has done, that the disciplinary requirement of "four years as a full-time lay pastor" as a requirement for associate membership was met by one year of full-time service and many years of part-time service. Whether the service in this instance was an equivalent is basically a question of fact and judgment to be determined on a case by case basis in the light of the years of service involved, the quality of that service, the maturity of the applicant and all other factors that would normally be relevant. Such a determination by an Annual Conference should be final in view of the constitutional authority granted to it to act upon all matters relating to the conference relations of its ministerial members. Here we have the affirmative judgment of the conference Board of the Ministry and of the conference itself, acting by its ministerial members in full connection. No suggestion is made that the conference erred in its determination that, in this instance, more than twenty years of part-time service followed by one year of full-time service was the equivalent of the disciplinary full-time service. Rather, the only issue is one of bare legal disciplinary authority to make such a judgment. We, therefore, advise that the action of the Annual Conference was within its authority.

Decision

The ministerial members of an Annual Conference may vote into associate membership a lay pastor who meets all of the disciplinary requirements for associate membership except four years of full-time service if it makes the factual determination that a sufficiently longer term of part-time service equates to the required years of full-time service.

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