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Decision No. 558

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October 24 1985
In Re: Eligibility of Retired Ministers for Election to Conference Boards and Agencies.

Digest of Case

That part of Discipline Par. 453.6 which restricts retired ministerial full members of an Annual Conference from membership on the Conference Board of Trustees, the Council on Finance and Administration, and the Board of Pensions, is unconstitutional.

Statement of Facts

In its annual session, June 12-16, 1985, the Maine Annual Conference voted to request a ruling from the Judicial Council on the constitutionality of the last sentence in the Discipline Par. 453.6 which reads, "Retired ministers may serve on conference agencies, except the Board of Trustees, the Board of Pensions, and the Council on Finance and Administration." The basis for the appeal was cited as "an act of discrimination exceeding consideration for potential conflicts of interests in setting their own pension rates." Briefs were received from H. Travers Smith, Thomas Merrill and Earl Riddle representing the Maine Annual Conference. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2615 of the 1984 Discipline. ANALYSIS The question before the Council is the constitutionality of Par. 453.6 of the Discipline which states: Retired ministers may serve on conference agencies, except the Board of Trustees, the Board of Pensions, and the Council on Finance and Administration. The material submitted indicates a strong feeling that retired ministers have valuable contributions to make and to exclude them would be unfair and unconstitutional. The point is whether this is a violation of their rights under Pars. 15.1 and 15.14 of the Constitution, which state respectively To define and fix the conditions, privileges, and duties of church membership which shall in every case be without reference to race or status. To secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status. We ruled in Decision No. 87 that a retired traveling preacher has a right to vote as a full member of the Annual Conference. We further ruled in Decision No. 88 that a retired member may be elected to membership in a Central Conference. In that ruling, the Judicial Council said: In the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, any member of an Annual Conference, whether active or retired, was considered a "traveling preacher." * * * Historically, retired members of an Annual Conference have been eligible to election as Delegates to the General Conference. The General Conference of 1808, that established the General Conference as a delegated body, was composed of 131 preachers, three of whom were superannuates (Journal of the 1808 General Conference). They were elected under a provision of the 1804 Discipline as follows: Who composes the General Conference? All the preachers who shall have traveled four years from the time they were received On Trial by an Annual Conference, and are in Full Connection at the time of holding the Conference. (Page 15, Discipline F 1804.) The General Conference of The Methodist Episcopal Church, passing upon the question of whether or not a retired minister could be elected as a Delegate to the General Conference, ruled as follows: 46. A Retired Minister is eligible to election as a Delegate to the General Conference. Journal of the General Conference, 1932, p. 611. (Par. 101.46 - 1936 Discipline.) The Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, answering the question, "Who shall compose an Annual Conference?" provided as follows: All the traveling preachers in Full Connection with it. (Page 33, 1938 Discipline.) No distinction is made here between preachers in the effective relationship and those in the retired relationship. A minister did not cease to be a member of the Annual Conference upon his superannuation. He therefore continued to be a "traveling preacher" although not actually serving a charge, as the Annual Conference, so far as its clerical membership was concerned, was composed only of "traveling preachers." The Judicial Council in its Decision, rendered to the General Conference at its 1952 session (Pages 527-528 of the Daily Christian Advocate), reaffirmed this historic relationship of retired ministers to the Annual Conference. (See Decision No. 87 of the Judicial Council.) Based on the historical interpretation of what constitute a "traveling preacher" and on who compose the General Conference, it appears that a retired minister, meeting the other qualifications for membership in the General Conference is eligible for election as a member of the General Conference regardless of whether he is or is not serving as a Supply Pastor. We affirmed that principle in our Memorandum No. 531 in which we stated that a retired ministerial member of an Annual Conference is eligible for election to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. In addition, privileges and rights which they enjoyed as effective full members of an Annual Conference and which are continued for retired full members include: 1. Retired members may vote in an Executive Session of the Annual Conference. 2. There is no disciplinary restriction on membership of retired ministers on General Boards or agencies except the General Board of Pensions, which is limited to ministers in full connection and in the effective relation. (Emphasis added) Discipline Par. 1602.l(b) 3. Retired ministers are included in figuring the number of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences from an Annual Conference. (Decision 327) 4. Decision 446 makes no provision for the exclusion of retired ministers when it sustains General Conference authority to establish a formula for membership of General and Annual Conference boards and agencies on the basis of one-third laywomen, one-third laymen, and one-third clergy. 5. Retired full ministerial members may serve on any Annual Conference board or agency except the three set forth in Par. 453.6. The first point is that except for the paragraphs cited no real distinction has been made between preachers in the effective relationship and those in a retired relationship. The second point is that the Constitution prohibits discrimination against status. The office of a minister in full connection is a status achieved. Although for some purposes distinction may be made between the effective and the retired relationship, we hold the office carries with it the right to serve as a member of boards and agencies of the Annual Conference when properly selected. Status and office do not change with retirement. A minister in full connection cannot be deprived of the rights that are a part of the office.

Decision

That part of Discipline Par. 453.6 which restricts retired ministerial full members of an Annual Conference from membership on the Conference Board of Trustees, the Council on Finance and Administration, and the Board of Pensions, is unconstitutional.

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