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Decision No. 413

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May 05 1976
In Re: Request of the General Conference for a Declaratory Decision as to the Constitutionality of Legislation Fixing a Retirement Age for Bishops Which Is Different from the Retirement Age Fixed for Other Ordained Elders of the Church.

Digest of Case

The Constitution of The United Methodist Church places upon the General Conference the specific responsibility for fixing the rules which govern the retirement of bishops. It makes no requirement that such rules be the same as those governing the retirement of other ordained ministers.

Statement of Facts

The 1976 session of the General Conference passed legislation (Sec. 3, Paragraph 507.1; page 470, DCA) which reads: "Mandatory Retirement-A bishop shall be retired on August 31 next, following the regular session of the Jurisdictional Conference if the bishop has reached his/her sixty-sixth birthday prior to the first day of the month in which the Jurisdictional Conference is held. This shall be effective with the Jurisdictional Conferences of 1980." Following the passage of this legislation (Reverend) H. Eugene Peacock made a motion as follows: "I move that the General Conference request the Judicial Council to render a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of legislation which places the retirement of bishops on a different age scale than other ordained ministerial members." The motion was passed by the General Conference and referred to this Council. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has Jurisdiction under Paragraph 1515 of the 1972 Discipline. ANALYSIS The question raised by this request for a decision has been ruled upon by the Judicial Council on previous occasions. See Decision Numbers 7, 35, 83, 114 and 312. The Constitution of The United Methodist Church speaks directly to the question referred to the Judicial Council in this request for a declaratory decision. Paragraph 15, Article IV, after stating that "The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional" then itemizes a number of powers which are specifically included. Among the items listed are: "5. To define and fix the powers, duties, and privileges of the episcopacy, to adopt a plan for the support of the bishops, to provide a uniform rule for their retirement, and to provide for the discontinuance of a bishop because of inefficiency or unacceptability." This paragraph clearly grants to the General Conference the authority to make rules and regulations for the retirement of bishops. It has been argued that to make rules for the retirement of bishops different from those rules which apply to other elders of the church establishes a separate "order" of the ministry; that such legislation takes the bishop out of the "order" of elder and places the bishop in a "class" or "order" separate or apart from other ministers. We find no merit in this argument. The membership of a bishop resides in the Jurisdictional College of Bishops and in the Council of Bishops. This makes him responsible to the Jurisdictional Conference and places him under the authority of the General Conference. When The United Methodist Church ordains a person as an elder, it confers upon that person the highest rank or order of ministry which exists within the church. No person is ordained a bishop. A bishop is consecrated for the specific duties, responsibilities and services which are required by the functions of the office. He remains an elder in the church. Because of the fact that the functions and responsibilities of the episcopal office differ from those of other ministerial services, the General Conference has, from time to time, passed legislation which applies only to the episcopal office. Some of this legislation relates to retirement age. Paragraph 15.5 gives the General Conference full and specific authority to determine the rules, regulations and requirements for the retirement of those persons who occupy the office of bishop, without reference in any way to legislation which applies to "other ordained ministerial members."

Decision

The Constitution of The United Methodist Church places upon the General Conference the specific responsibility for fixing the rules which govern the retirement of bishops. It makes no requirement that such rules be the same as those governing the retirement of other ordained ministers.

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