Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 379
November 09 1973
In Re: Petition of the South Indiana Annual Conference for a DeclaratoryDecision Regarding the Meaning of
Digest of Case
Ministers in The United Methodist Church are appointed on an annual basis at the time of the regular meeting of the Annual Conference. A year of service under appointment therefore is service for the period of time from one regular session of the Annual Conference to its next regular session.
Statement of Facts
The South Indiana Annual Conference, upon the request of its Board of Pensions, on June 8, 1973 voted, by a two-thirds majority vote, to petition the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision as follows: "The South Indiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church petitions the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church for its examination of Paragraph 1259 of the 1972 Discipline of The United Methodist Church. Upon such examination, request is made for a declaratory decision upon the meaning of 'Years of approved service in an Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.'" The reason for seeking this declaratory decision is presented in the petition to the Judicial Council which we quote: "The Board of Pensions of the South Indiana Annual Conference discovers confusion as to the meaning of such years of service as applied to the period of time between annual conference sessions and an actual annuity year of twelve full months of pension payment." "Specifically, the 1941-1942 Indiana Annual Conference year spans the period from September 1, 1941 to June 1, 1942. Thus, the 1941-1942 conference year of the Indiana Annual Conference comprised nine months. It now arises that a minister in Full Connection in the South Indiana Conference, the successor conference to the former Indiana Conference, may apply for retirement on the basis of Paragraph 362.1 after having completed forty years of full-time approved service. However, an examination of his record indicates that he began his conference service on September 1, 1934 and would desire to terminate his service on June 1, 1974. Although he has served for forty full conference years, he will have made annuity payments in the amount of thirty-nine and three-fourths years. Will a nine-month year of an annual conference, caused by its own action in the shifting of dates of annual conference sessions, be considered to be a year of approved service in an annual conference and so be credited against the application for retirement on the basis of having forty conference years?" "The question for resolution is as follows: 'What is a year of approved service: an annual conference year or a year of twelve full annuity payments?'" JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1515.2 of the 1972 Discipline. ANALYSIS Paragraph 1259 of the Discipline deals with Annual Conference administration only as it relates to years of service approved for pension credit. Section 1 of the paragraph states: "The Annual Conference, on recommendation of the conference Board of Pensions, shall determine the admissibility and validity of service approved for pension credit and the payments, disallowances, and deductions thereunder, subject to the provisions of the Discipline and the rules and regulations of the pension funds, plans and programs of The United Methodist Church." (emphasis added) Each section of the paragraph deals with some specific phase of pension credit or payment and provides information and regulations for its administration by the Annual Conference. Section 1 of the paragraph authorizes the Annual Conference to "determine the admissibility and validity of service approved for pension credit" (emphasis added) but such determination is "subject to the provisions of the Discipline and the rules and regulations of the pension funds, plans, and programs of The United Methodist Church." This authority relates only to "service approved for pension credit." (emphasis added) The Judicial Council, in Decision No. 46, has already determined that a year of approved service for pension credit is a period of twelve months. This decision came as a result of an appeal by the Indiana Conference of The Methodist Church from a ruling made by Bishop Lowe who had ruled that a conference year, even if less than twelve months, constituted a year of service for pension credit. The issue was the matter of pension credit for the "short" conference year (1941-1942) in that conference. The Judicial Council reversed the bishop's ruling. But that decision deals only with pension credit. It does not speak at all to the matter of years of service for retirement eligibility. Service required for retirement eligibility, that is "years of service under appointment" as specified in Paragraph 362.1, and service required for pension credit, while obviously related, are not necessarily the same. A minister may serve "years under appointment" which never become "years approved for pension credit." This is true, for example, of years served under certain "special appointment" situations where the employer of the minister under such special appointment assumes pension responsibility for those years. In order to give a clear answer to the retirement eligibility of a minister under Paragraph 362.1 this distinction must be understood. It is the real point at issue in the South Indiana Annual Conference situation. Records of South Indiana Annual Conference show that at the time of conference union in the State of Indiana, under authority of Paragraph 1263, there was created a "Joint Distributing Committee" which functioned for the entire Indiana Area. This committee accepted, as the basis for establishing the number of years of service approved for pension credit, the evaluation which had been made as a result of Judicial Council Decision No. 46 that Indiana Conference's 1941-1942 conference year should be counted as three-fourths of a year for pension credit. This evaluation has been on the records of the General Board of Pensions since the time of that decision. The years of service for pension credit for all ministers in the former Indiana Conference during the 1941-1942 conference year have been evaluated on this basis. However, the fact that this three-fourths evaluation was made for purposes of pension credit in no way precludes a different determination for retirement eligibility. Payment of pension annuity premiums is not the determining factor in establishing the "years of service under appointment" required for retirement eligibility. Ministers in The United Methodist Church are appointed for service by a bishop. The ministers are appointed annually at the time of the meeting of the regular session of the Annual Conference. Paragraph 391.1. reads: "The bishop shall appoint preachers to pastoral charges annually ... before the official declaration of the assignments of the preachers, the appointments shall be announced openly to the Cabinet, and provided further that before any announcement of appointments is made, the district superintendent shall consult with the pastors and the local Pastor-Parish Relations committees or their chairpersons concerning their specific appointments except when the pastors involved have left the seat of the Annual Conference without permission of the Annual Conference. . ." The exception to this procedure is that authorized under Section 2 of the same paragraph which gives to the bishop permission to "make or change appointments of preachers in the interval between sessions of the Annual Conference as necessity may require." The regular and normal procedure of appointment is from Annual Conference session to Annual Conference session and even all appointments made in the interval between sessions of the Annual Conference terminate at the end of that conference year. Regardless of what understandings may be agreed upon in advance of the regular Annual Conference session, an appointment is not "official" until it is declared at the regular Annual Conference session and no appointment extends beyond the next regular meeting of the Annual Conference. Each annual appointment is officially a "new" appointment. An Annual Conference year is normally a year of twelve months. However there may be instances, as was the case in the Indiana Conference, when an Annual Conference may desire to change the time for the meeting of its regular annual session. The desire was to change from a fall to a spring meeting time. At the September 1941 session the pastors of the conference were appointed for the ensuing conference year which ended June 1942. In June 1942 the pastors were again appointed for a conference year. The September 1941 session was a regular annual session as was the session of June 1942. Therefore a minister who served out the appointment given to him in September 1941 which lasted only until June 1942, the time of the next regular session of the Annual Conference, served a year under appointment and is entitled to credit for a year of service toward meeting the retirement eligibility requirements of Paragraph 362.1 of the Discipline even though his pension credit for that period is only three-fourths of a year.
A year of approved service for pension credit (Par. 1259) is a twelve month year. A year of service under appointment for retirement eligibility (Par. 362.1) is a conference year which is the time between two regular sessions of an Annual Conference. Ministers in The United Methodist Church receive annual appointments at the time of the regular session of the Annual Conference. Each such appointment continues only until the time of the meeting of the next regular session of the Annual Conference. A year of service for credit toward retirement eligibility for a minister under appointment in an Annual Conference is the period of time from one regular session of that Annual Conference to its next regular session. Thus a person who has served forty conference years under appointment is eligible for retirement under Paragraph 362.1 of the Discipline even though he may have less than forty twelve month years of service for pension credit. November 10, 1973 Dissenting Opinion The undersigned respectfully dissent from the majority opinion in this matter. The problem presented here is merely one of interpretation of the phrases, "Years of Approved Service in an Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church," and "Years of Service Under Appointment." The problem is also in reference to what this means as to retirement eligibility. It is simply a question of interpretation as to whether a year of service means a calendar year or a Conference year. The majority made the decision that a year of service for credit toward retirement eligibility refers to a Conference year. It is to this decision that we respectfully dissent. A basic rule of Judicial interpretation is that when there is doubt as to meaning the most common interpretation or meaning should be applied. The word "year" normally and basically means to most people a calendar year. If the General Conference had meant other than the common definition they would have said so. We, therefore, respectfully dissent. An alternative thought needs to be expressed in that Paragraph 1259 of the Discipline gives broad authority to the Annual Conference in reference to these programs. It might be more appropriate for each Annual Conference to make the decision. TOM MATHENY FLORENCE LUCAS EDWARDS We join in all of the dissenting opinion above with the exception of the alternative thought expressed in the last paragraph: a matter which in theinstant case was neither referred by the petitioner nor reviewed by the Judicial Council. KATHRYN MOWREY GROVE TRUMAN W. POTTER