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Decision No. 384

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April 19 1974
In Re: Petition from the Southwest Texas Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Application of Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline, to Persons Previously Located Under Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline, and on the Readmission of a Former Conference Member Who Had Been Involuntarily Located Prior to the General Conference of 1972.

Digest of Case

Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline defines the ministerial status of a former conference member who was involuntarily located under Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline as that of a person whose conference membership and whose right to exercise the functions of the ministry have been terminated and whose ordination credentials have been surrendered. Such an involuntarily located person who was in good standing as a conference member at the time of his location may apply for readmission under Paragraph 372 of the 1972 Discipline or apply for the restoration of credentials under Paragraph 1536 of the 1972 Discipline.

Statement of Facts

On May 31, 1971, F. Gene Leggett, a member of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference, was involuntarily located under Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline. In the spring of 1973 Mr. Leggett informed the Board of the Ministry of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference that he would like to apply for readmission. The board, after studying the 1972 Discipline, found the legislation too ambiguous for it to determine whether or not he had such a right of application. Accordingly the board requested the Annual Conference to petition the Judicial Council for a clarification of the matter. The following petition was voted by the Southwest Texas Annual Conference. "The Southwest Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church hereby petitions the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church for a Declaratory Decision regarding the application of Paragraph No. 368 of the 1972 Discipline of The United Methodist Church to a minister who was Involuntarily Located under Paragraph No. 368 of the 1968 Discipline. "Furthermore, we petition the Judicial Council for a Declaratory Decision regarding the right and procedure whereby a minister who was Involuntarily Located under No. 368 of the 1968 Discipline may apply for readmission to the Annual Conference. "WHEREAS Nos. 372, 373 and 374 of the 1972 Discipline do not provide for readmission of persons who were granted Involuntary Location under Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline and "WHEREAS Nos. 1534 and 1536 do not specifically mention Involuntary Location we request a decision as to whether the provision for restoration of credentials contained in 1536 would apply for a person who had been Involuntarily Located under the 1968 Discipline." A letter from the Board of the Ministry of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference raised some additional, related questions: "1. Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline provides the alternative of a trial. Can Mr. Leggett now be granted that alternative? "2. Since Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline omitted any provision concerning the local church relationship of a person located under it, what is the church membership status of such a person? "3. Is Mr. Leggett correct in his feeling that, since his authority to exercise the ministerial office was only 'suspended,' he is also a member of the charge conference?" JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1515 of the 1972 Discipline. Analysis We have two basic questions before us: 1. The application of Paragraph 368of the 1972 Discipline to a person who had been involuntarily located under Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline, and 2. The rights and procedures whereby such a person may apply for readmission to the Annual Conference. In the Chapter on "The Ministry," Section XVI of the 1968 Discipline (Paragraphs 365-373) and Section XVI of the 1972 Discipline (Paragraphs 366-371) are both entitled "Termination of Annual Conference Membership." Paragraph 368 (also 369) of the 1968 Discipline was on "Involuntary Location." Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline is on "Termination by Action of the Annual Conference. Both paragraphs deal with procedures by which a member of an Annual Conference may have his conference membership terminated without his consent. The 1968 paragraph "suspends" the right to exercise the functions of the ministry. The 1972 paragraph "terminates" that right. Both paragraphs require the surrender of ordination credentials. The 1972 Discipline has a new following section in the Chapter on "The Ministry" called "Readmission to Conference Relationships" (Section XVII). In none of the paragraphs of this section is there any provision for the readmission of a minister whose Annual Conference membership is terminated by conference action under Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline. The closing sentence of this paragraph reads "the provisions of this paragraph shall apply also to persons granted involuntary location prior to the General Conference of 1972." Does this mean that persons granted involuntary location prior to the General Conference of 1972 have no rights or procedures whereby they may apply for readmission? What is the meaning of that final sentence in Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline? We should consider it in connection with that final sentence in Paragraph 367 of the 1972 Discipline on "Location -1, Voluntary-2, Involuntary" which reads "The provisions of this paragraph shall not apply to persons granted involuntary location prior to the General Conference of 1972." It seems obvious that these two closing sentences in Paragraphs 367 and 368 of the 1972 Discipline refer only to the ministerial status of persons involuntarily located prior to the General Conference of 1972. Such persons, by action of the Annual Conference under Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline, have had their conference membership terminated, their right to exercise the ministerial functions suspended and their ordination credentials surrendered. Their ministerial status is different from the status of those who are voluntarily or involuntarily located under the new legislation (Par. 367 of the 1972 Discipline), who become ministerial members of the local church and the charge conference and can exercise their ministerial functions under the supervision of the pastor in charge, but the same as the status of persons whose conference membership and ministerial rights are terminated under Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline. Does this mean that, as far as any rights and procedures for readmission are concerned, there is no difference between such persons who are involuntarily located under Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline and those who may have their conference membership terminated by the Annual Conference under Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline? It is sometimes pointed out that there is a great difference between the term "suspended" in the 1968 paragraph and the term "terminated" in the 1972 paragraph. Indeed there is a difference in the meaning of the terms. The term "suspended," however, in the 1968 paragraph is so qualified by other parts of the paragraph that it has lost its true meaning. The Judicial Council in 1966 (Decision No. 240) made the following comment about the term: "However, thephrase 'shall be suspended' in the instance of involuntary location appears to be an imprecise use of the term 'suspend.' Involuntary location involves a termination of ministerial functions. Therefore the word 'revoked' would be more accurate since surrender of credentials is required." There seems to be little support in the use of different terms in these paragraphs for a different status for those whose conference membership has been terminated under the 1968 paragraph. There are other considerations, however, which seem to argue for certain rights of application for readmission for persons involuntarily located prior to 1972. It needs to be pointed out that the new 1972 legislation kept a provision for involuntary location (Par. 367.2) but greatly lessened the consequences, allowing a person so located to keep ordination credentials and to exercise within the charge his ministerial functions. The procedure for such involuntary location is largely the same as that in Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline. The primary difference seems to be in the 1972 emphasis on the fact that the conference must have examined the character of the person to be involuntarily located and found the member in good standing. Neither Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline nor Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline requires that the character of the minister involved be passed. This would seem to infer that matters of character might be involved in "involuntary location" or "termination," but this would not necessarily be the case. The causes mentioned for involuntary location in the new Paragraph 367 where a member's character must be passed are that a minister is "ineffective" or "inefficient." Some of the causes mentioned in Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline where a member's character was not required to be passed are that a minister is "unacceptable, inefficient, or indifferent." These are not necessarily questions of character. The character of every member of the Annual Conference is passed upon at every conference session. If there is anything against a member's character it is noted. In the proceedings of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference in the involuntary location of Mr. Leggett the record shows no charges or complaints of character. It must be assumed then that the involuntary location was granted to him as a conference member in good standing, and that, therefore, as far as an application for readmission is concerned, he has the same right as those who may be involuntarily located under Paragraph 367 of the 1972 Discipline. As a further argument in support of this conclusion, we would point out that it is a well-established principle of law that when a legal action is taken against a person, no subsequent legislation can make the penalty or burden imposed upon that person more onerous or restrictive than that imposed by the legislation under which the action was taken. We have pointed out that the last sentences in Paragraphs 367 and 368 of the 1972 Discipline could only have validity as they referred to the present status of persons who were involuntarily located under Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline. That status, however, was given to such persons, not by those sentences in the 1972 paragraphs but by the provisions of the 1968 paragraph under which they were located. The final sentence in Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline cannot add to the penalty imposed by the legislation of the 1968 Discipline. The final sentence in Paragraph 367 of the 1972 Discipline cannot take away any rights not taken away by the legislation of the 1968 Discipline. One of the rights not taken away was the right of application for readmission. Paragraph 372 of the 1972 Discipline reads: "Readmission after location. Ministers who have located under the provisions of Par. 367 from an Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church or one of its legal predecessors may be readmitted by the Annual Conference in which they held previously such membership and from which they located, or its legal successor, or the Annual Conference of which the major portion of their former conference is a part, upon presentation of their certificate of location and recommendation by the District Committee on the Ministry, the Board of the Ministry, and the Cabinet, after review of their qualifications and the circumstances relating to their location. When reinstated by vote of the Annual Conference, their membership in the conference shall be restored and they shall be authorized to perform all ministerial functions." It is the judgment of the Judicial Council that all who were involuntarily located prior to 1972 as conference members in good standing may apply for readmission under the provisions of Paragraph 372 of the 1972 Discipline. Paragraph 372 makes no provision for the restoration of credentials. The omission is obviously due to the fact that the authors of the legislation did not consider its rightful application to members in good standing who had been involuntarily located prior to 1972. It is the opinion of the Judicial Council that readmission to the Annual Conference and the authorization to perform all ministerial functions would of necessity carry with it the restoration of credentials. However, additional authority for the restoration of credentials of a former conference member in good standing can be found in Paragraphs 1534.3 and 1536 which read: 1534.3 "When a ministerial member is deprived of his credentials of ordination, by expulsion or otherwise, they shall be filed with papers of the Annual Conference." 1536 "The Annual Conference to which credentials were surrendered as provided in Paragraphs 1534.3, 1535 may restore the same at its discretion if no charges or complaints against the minister were pending at the time of surrendering the said credentials and if at the time a request is made for the restoration of said credentials the minister is a member in good standing of The United Methodist Church and shall present from the Charge Conference a certificate of character and a recommendation for the restoration of credentials . . ." It may perhaps be argued that these paragraphs are found in the chapter on Judicial Administration in the Section on Trials and that, therefore, they do not apply to the matter of involuntary location. The procedures of involuntary location, however, under Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline were judicial procedures which could deprive a conference member of his ministerial rights and required the filing of that person's ordination credentials with the secretary of the Annual Conference. When there are no charges or complaints of character against such a person, the Annual Conference may restore the surrendered ordination credentials under Paragraph 1536 of the 1972 Discipline (formerly Paragraph 1736 of the 1968 Discipline). The restoration of credentials could be a separate action by the Annual Conference without readmission, or the two actions could be combined. There were three related questions in the communication from the Board of the Ministry of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference. 1. Since Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline now provides the alternative of a trial, is that option now open to Mr. Leggett? It is not. The new legislation does not offer any alternative to conference action already taken. 2. Since Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline omitted any provision concerning the local church relationship of a person located under it, what is the church membership status of such a person? The Board of the Ministry of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference stated that the conference had no intention of depriving Mr Leggett of membership in The United Methodist Church. There is no such intention, either, in Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline. Mr. Leggett would become a lay member of a local United Methodist Church. 3. Is there validity to Mr. Leggett's feeling that, since his ministerial functions were "suspended" rather than "terminated" he would be a ministerial member of a local church and a member of the charge conference? There is not. His ordination credentials were surrendered to the Annual Conference.

Decision

It is the decision of the Judicial Council that Paragraph 368 of the 1972 Discipline defines the ministerial status of a former conference member who was involuntarily located under Paragraph 368 of the 1968 Discipline as that of a person whose conference membership and whose right to exercise the functions of the ministry have been terminated and whose ordination credentials have been surrendered. Such an involuntarily located person who was in good standing as a conference member at the time of his location may apply for readmission under Paragraph 372 of the 1972 Discipline or apply for the restoration of credentials under Paragraph 1536 of the 1972 Discipline.

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