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Decision No. 459

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October 26 1979
In Re: Leave of Absence Under Par. 433.

Digest of Case

Par. 433 of the 1976 Discipline does not provide for the granting of an involuntary leave of absence.

Statement of Facts

During the session of the Mississippi Annual Conference on June 13, 1979, a written request was presented asking the Bishop to rule on the following question: Does Par. 433 of the 1976 Book of Discipline provide for the granting of an involuntary leave of absence? The Bishop rephrased the question to read: Can a pastor be granted a leave of absence without his or her requesting it? He then ruled that such a leave can be granted under Par. 433, saying: My ruling is that it can be so granted according to Par. 433. That Paragraph does not specify that the request must come from the pastor. Traditionally, in various annual conferences it has been assumed that there are two authentic or legal interpretations of Par. 433. (1) One is that the request for a leave of absence may come from the pastor. (2) The other is that a leave of absence may be granted without being requested by the pastor. It is my understanding that in various annual conferences action has been taken on the basis of this second interpretation. In any event, that is my ruling. The ruling was reported by the Secretary of the Annual Conference to the Judicial Council. The bishop forwarded to us a more detailed statement of his reasons. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2512 of the Discipline. ANALYSIS Par. 433 of the Discipline is found in a section headed "Changes in Conference Relationship" (Pars. 430-436). Par. 430 constitutes a preamble to the remaining Paragraphs and reads in part: Ministers seeking a change in Conference relationships shall make written request to their Board of Ordained Ministry ... (Emphasis added.) Subsequent paragraphs deal with types of changes available: Disability Leave(431), Maternity Leave (432), Leave of Absence (433), Retirement (434), Honorable Location (435), and Readmission after Honorable Location (436). Nowhere in the 1976 Discipline is there provision for an involuntary leave of absence, that is, without the request or consent of the pastor. There are two situations where a change of relationship may be made without request, but in those instances it is specifically provided that the change may be effected without consent. Par. 433 authorizes location without consent if a minister on leave of absence and residing outside the boundaries of the conference, fails to make the required annual report. Par. 434.1 under certain circumstances permits retirement without consent irrespective of age. Much of what we have said in Decision No. 462 is pertinent here. We there referred to Decisions 380 and 351 which speak of our Church's long history of concern for the protection of the rights of its members and ministers. Pars. 420 and 451 guarantee an annual appointment to all ministerial members who are in good standing, unless on leave or retired. Of course, ministerial members may lose their right to appointment if they lose their membership or their good standing through the provisions of Par. 702.4, provided the safeguards of Pars. 2520-60 have been complied with. There is no provision, however, for losing security of appointment by involuntary transfer to leave of absence relationship. It would be a drastic limitation on the historic security of appointment if, between sessions of the Annual Conference, the bishop, district superintendents and executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry could deprive a minister of his right to appointment by putting him on involuntary leave. The basic concept of leave is permission, not compulsion or expulsion or suspension. An involuntary leave of absence would have the effect of suspension. Under Par. 702.4 an Annual Conference has power to suspend, but only on recommendation of a Committee of Investigation and only pending a trial. Under Par. 2521.5, a Trial Court has power to suspend, subject to appeal, but only after a trial and conviction. Suspension, or its equivalent, involuntary leave of absence, without meticulous compliance with the prescribed safeguards, would not be in accordance with our long tradition of jealous protection of the rights of ministers and members of The United Methodist Church. In his amplified statement of reasons the bishop refers to the history of Par. 433, going back to Par. 229 of the 1940 Discipline which reads: A Supernumerary Minister is one who, because of impaired health, or other equally sufficient reason, is temporarily unable to perform full work. This relation shall not be granted for more than five years in succession except by a two-thirds vote of the Conference, upon recommendation of the Committee on Conference Relations, and a statement of the reason for such recommendation. He may receive an appointment or be left without one, according to the judgment of the Annual Conference of which he is a member; and he shall be subject to all limitations of the Discipline in respect to reappointment and continuance in the same Charge that apply to Effective Ministers. In case he has no Pastoral Charge he shall have a seat in the Quarterly Conference, and all the privileges of membership, in the place where he resides. He shall report to the fourth Quarterly Conference, and to the Pastor, all Marriages performed and all Baptisms administered. Should he reside outside the bounds of his Annual Conference, he shall forward to it annually a certificate similar to that required of a Retired Minister, and in case of failure to do so the Annual Conference may locate him without his consent. He shall have no claim on the Conference funds except by vote of the Conferences. The above provisions continued without change, except renumbering, until 1972. In 1972 the number was changed to 433 and the reference to the Committee on Conference Relations was changed to the Board of Ordained Ministry. There also were three changes of substance: 1. The definition of a supernumerary minister was changed from one "temporarily unable to perform full work" to "temporarily unwilling or unable to perform the full work of their appointment." The addition of the world "unwilling" adds some suggestion that the decision originates with the minister. 2. The addition of the words "This relation is to be requested through the Board of the Ministry", indicating that the initiative comes from the minister, certainly not from the Board of Ministry. 3. The addition of the following provision for interim action: Between sessions of the Annual Conference this relation may be granted with the approval of the bishop, district superintendents, and the Board of the Ministry. This interim action shall be subject to the approval of the Annual Conference at its next session. (Emphasis added.) It is significant that the relationship is granted with required approval. It is not imposed by action of the named parties, as would be the case with involuntary leave, but it is granted with their required approval. This clearly indicates the necessity that the change be initiated by the request of the minister. In 1976 the terminology was changed to refer to the relationship of leave of absence rather than the relationship of supernumerary minister, and the interim provision was amended so that a change of relationship made between sessions of the Annual Conference would be granted or terminated with the approval of the bishop, district superintendents and executive committee of the Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. The most important factor in the legislative history is the adoption in 1976 of Par. 430, and the arrangement and renumbering of the following Paragraphs, now 431, 432 and 433. Par. 430 reads: Ministers seeking a change in conference relationship shall make written request to their Board of Ordained Ministry stating the reasons for the requested change of status. In addition, the Board of Ordained Ministry may request personal interviews with the minister requesting the change in status, except where personal appearance results in undue hardship. (Emphasis added.) It is significant that this paragraph relating generally to change of status is immediately followed, not as a matter of editorial location, but as a result of specific General Conference action, by provisions relating to the three kinds of leave: Par. 431 Disability Leave, Par. 432 Maternity Leave and Par. 433 Leaveof Absence. Whatever might have been the situation in earlier years, a question we are not called upon to decide, since 1976 it is clear that a leave of absence must be preceded by a written request by the minister followed by action of the Annual Conference on recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry (a recommendation the Conference may accept or reject, Decision No. 105), except that in the interim between sessions of the Annual Conference the bishop, district superintendents and executive committee of the Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry may act upon the minister's request for leave or termination of leave, subject to approval of the Annual Conference at its next session.

Decision

Par. 433 of the 1976 Discipline does not provide for the granting of an involuntary leave of absence.

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