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Decision No. 456

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April 26 1979
In Re: Financial Responsibility of an Annual Conference for Unpaid Pastoral Salary and Unpaid Benevolence Apportionments When a Congregation is Discontinued as a United Methodist Church.

Digest of Case

A minister under pastoral appointment to a Church which is discontinued has the right to receive from the Annual Conference the unpaid portion of his salary up to the minimum salary schedule approved by the Annual Conference. With regard to benevolence apportionments, this responsibility ends when the Annual Conference discontinues the local church.

Statement of Facts

At the morning session of the Louisville Annual Conference on May 26, 1978, John Spaulding requested a ruling from Bishop Robertson. He indicated that in 1977 one of the ministers lost $1,040 in salary through the closing of a local church, leaving the pastor approximately $950 under the established level of equitable salary. When the church bus was sold for $300, he was still $650 short. A balance due also existed in the church's benevolence payments. Mr. Spaulding requested a two-fold ruling: "First, is this Annual Conferenceresponsible for payment of the balance of this young minister's salary up to the established level of the 1977 equitable salary? Second, when a congregation discontinues itself as a viable United Methodist congregation does this cancel the balance due of that church's benevolence apportionments?" The motion requested a review of the ruling by the Judicial Council. Bishop Robertson indicated he would rule later. At the afternoon session, Alex Rodgers, Jr. moved as a substitute that rather than asking Bishop Robertson to rule on Rev. Spaulding's motion, the Annual Conference request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council. It was accepted and approved. Later information received indicated that the local church sold its property to the State and that no request was made of the Committee on Equitable Salaries until January 1978 when that Committee began paying the salary. Their chairman, Charles R. Kiser, has indicated that it was his understanding that the minister was subsequently paid in full from other funds. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2515.2(i). ANALYSIS There are details which surround this request which are unclear. We have no information regarding the procedure followed in the discontinuance of the church, the specific time of service and appointment of the pastor, the percentage of the salary paid by the local church, nor the amount due and paid on benevolence apportionments. Neither are we in possession of facts concerning any funds realized from the sale of the property or concerning other assets and liabilities of the congregation. We are restricting our decision to the two questions asked. First, is the Louisville Annual Conference responsible for payment of the balance due on the minister's salary, up to the established level of the 1977 equitable salaries? The matter of equitable (formerly called minimum) salaries is clarified by Judicial Council Decision No. 90. Discipline Par. 934 provides that: "4. The Commission on Equitable Salaries shall present its estimate of the amount required to comply with the schedule of minimum salaries for the pastors, as adopted by the conference to the conference Council on Finance and Administration, which shall apportion the amount as an item of ministerial support to the districts or the charges as the conference may direct. "5. The Equitable Salary Fund, secured as described in (4) shall be used to provide each pastor who receives less than the minimum salary with an additional amount sufficient to make the salary approved by the pastoral charge plus the supplemental aid or income from other sources equal to the minimum salary approved by the conference: provided that nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as limiting the right of an Annual Conference to set a maximum amount to be used in attaining such minimum salary in any given case." These paragraphs mean that a member of an Annual Conference, under pastoral appointment, has the right to receive the amount required to comply with the schedule of minimum salaries as adopted by the Annual Conference. It should be observed that Par. 934.8 stipulates that "the primary responsibility for the payment of pastoral salaries remains with individual pastoral charges." No pastor is entitled to any claim for unpaid salary against any church or charge served after pastoral connection with the church or charge has ceased. (Par. 933) The second question asked is, "When a congregation is discontinued, does this cancel the balance due of that church's benevolence apportionments?" While a local Charge Conference has responsibility to meet benevolence and other apportionments, this obligation ends when the congregation is discontinued as a United Methodist Church. In this connection, the Annual Conference should give due regard to protect against the possibility of any penalty to the pastor's pension claim. Upon discontinuance of a local church, all records shall be collected by the District Superintendent of that District and placed with the Secretary of the Annual Conference. (Par. 2441.2) Any funds that become available to the discontinued local church shall become the property of the trustees of the Annual Conference. In the event of the sale or lease of the property, the trustees of the Annual Conference shall recommend to the Annual Conference the disposition of the proceeds from such sale or lease. (See Par. 2441.3,4) This procedure has been previously upheld in Judicial Council Decisions 119, 138, and 143.

Decision

A minister under pastoral appointment to a Church which is discontinued has the right to receive from the Annual Conference the unpaid portion of his salary up to the minimum salary schedule approved by the Annual Conference. With regard to benevolence apportionments, this responsibility ends when the Annual Conference discontinues the local church.

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