Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 502
October 22 1981
In Re: Eligibility to Participate in the Ministerial Pension Plan.
Digest of Case
All bishops, ministerial members of Annual Conferences, and local pastors (full-time and part-time) who meet the eligibility requirements as specified in the Discipline and in the Ministerial Pension Plan may participate in the Plan.
Statement of Facts
The 1980 General Conference enacted legislation stating that pensions earned by bishops, ministers, and local pastors should be provided in accordance with the provision of the Ministerial Pension Plan. The Ministerial Pension Plan in printed form was considered by the General Conference and, with certain amendments and modifications, was approved. The South Indiana Annual Conference, upon recommendation of its Board of Pensions, acted in its 1981 session to request a declaratory decision of the Judicial Council, a decision which would have the effect of ruling that part-time local pastors are ineligible for participation in the Ministerial Pension Plan. The South Indiana Annual Conference in its brief maintains that Petition G-01028 was adopted by the Legislative Committee on Financial Administration and that this action placed the qualifying word "eligible" before "local pastors" in the following place and manner, so that Par. 1706.2(c) of the 1980 Discipline should have read as follows: Pensions earned by bishops (elected by a Jurisdictional Conference), ministers, and eligible local pastors, and protection benefits for such bishops, ministers and local pastors in The United Methodist Church after December 31, 1981, shall be provided in accordance with the provisions of the Ministerial Pension Plan and the Comprehensive Protection Plan. It is the contention of the brief that the intent of this action was to include only full-time local pastors, who meet the same salary level requirement as is imposed in the Comprehensive Protection Plan, Section 3.1(a), excluding part-time local pastors who did not meet that salary level requirement. When the Legislative Committee on Financial Administration recommendation was printed in the Daily Christian Advocate as Calendar Item No. 759 (P. 478, DCA), !he word "eligible" was placed one line later in the paragraph, making the paragraph read as follows: Pensions earned by bishops (elected by a Jurisdictional Conference), ministers, and local pastors, and protection benefits for such bishops, ministers, and eligible local pastors..... (remainder unchanged). The Calendar Item in question was adopted as a part of an omnibus motion with no mention of possible inaccuracy or discussion of the meaning or application of the word "eligible." It is printed in the 1980 Discipline as Par. 1706.2(c). The South Indiana Annual Conference maintains that certain restrictive provisions of the Comprehensive Protection Plan should have been included in the Ministerial Pension Plan, and asks that the Judicial Council correct the placement of the word "eligible" and order the inclusion of the restrictive material in the Ministerial Pension Plan. The brief from the South Indiana Conference asked the Judicial Council for a legal judgment ruling that the language of Section 3.1(a) (iii) is "legislatively tainted" because it is not restricted to those conferences within the civil jurisdiction of the United States of America. During debate on the Ministerial Pension Plan and Comprehensive Protection Plan at the 1980 General Conference, the following question was asked: "Does thepension plan we are now discussing include only persons who are serving The United Methodist Church within the USA?" The General Conference was told, "The answer is yes." (DCA, p. 850) This seemed to be the clear understanding under which the General Conference acted, and it was suggested that the Plan documents should include wording to make the generally accepted restriction specific. Subsequently, the wording of Section 1.2 of the Ministerial Pension Plan was changed to read as follows: "Applicability. The provisions set forth in thisPlan are applicable only to those persons associated with a Jurisdictional Conference who meet the requirements for participation on or after January 1, 1982." A similar statement is included in Section 1.2 of the Comprehensive Protection Plan. The South Indiana Annual Conference brief further asked for a definition of "under episcopal appointment" as that term is applied to local pastors in the Ministerial Pension Plan. At an oral hearing on October 22, 1981, oral presentations were made by Gary K. Drown, Loren E. Maxwell, and Harold Pfrang, representing the South Indiana Annual Conference, and by Gerald Hornung, James Walton-Myers, and James F. Parker, representing the General Board of Pensions of The United Methodist Church. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Pars. 2610 and 2615 of the 1980 Discipline. ANALYSIS There is some evidence that the word "eligible" was indeed misplaced in transmission from the Legislative Committee on Financial Administration through the Daily Christian Advocate to the General Conference. However, there seems to be no question that the placing of the word in Par. 1706.2(c) of the 1980 Discipline accurately reflects the action of the General Conference. In view of this, the Judicial Council has no authority to order that the word "eligible" be moved to the place Committee members may originally have intended. Any problem this may present is ameliorated by the fact that in this case, the location of the word in question does not materially change or affect the essential meaning or application of the legislation. With the word "eligible" placed in either of the questioned locations, or with it omitted altogether, the General Conference has still acted to provide pensions "in accordance with the provisions of the Ministerial Pension Plan and the Comprehensive Protection Plan." [Par. 1706.2(c)] The Ministerial Pension Plan printed and provided to the Annual Conferences by the General Board of Pensions is, in the relevant sections, exactly as adopted by the General Conference. The Plan clearly and specifically defines eligibility for participation, and the clarity of that definition is in no way dependent on the placement of the word "eligible" in the paragraph in question. It was clearly the intent of the General Conference that the Ministerial Pension Plan and the Comprehensive Protection Plan should apply only to bishops, ministers, and local pastors whose relationship was to a conference within the United States. The wording of the Plan documents specifies that the provisions "shall apply only to those persons associated with a Jurisdictional Conference." Par. 8 of the Constitution, which establishes Jurisdictional Conferences, provides for such conferences only for the Church in the United States of America. By Disciplinary provision, to be a "local pastor under episcopal appointment to a charge," a person must first have met the educational and other qualifications for approval by the Annual Conference, and must have received that approval by a vote of the ministerial members in full connection of that Annual Conference. One cannot be under episcopal appointment until those basic qualifications for eligibility have been met. That person must then have been appointed to a charge through the normal, disciplinary process of consultation and appointment, with the appointment made and fixed by the bishop, must have accepted the appointment, and must have assumed the duties of the charge. Since payments to and benefits from the Ministerial Pension Plan are related to compensation, a local pastor must also be receiving the salary related to that appointment in order to be eligible for participation in the Plan. Within the context of the Ministerial Pension Plan, one additional qualification must be met. The Plan clearly stipulates in Section 1.2 that the provisions apply only to persons associated with a Jurisdictional Conference. A person meeting all of the above qualifications would be a "local pastor under episcopal appointment to a charge" for purposes of the Ministerial Pension Plan.
Those sections of both the 1980 Discipline and the Ministerial Pension Plan which define eligibility for participation are correctly printed as adopted by the 1980 General Conference. Eligibility for participation in the Plan is adequately defined, and all bishops, ministerial members of Annual Conferences, and local pastors (full-time and part-time) who meet those eligibility requirements may participate. The Ministerial Pension Plan and the Comprehensive Protection Plan include only bishops, ministerial members of an Annual Conference, and local pastors who are associated with an Annual Conference within one of the five jurisdictions.