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Decision No. 607

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October 27 1988
In Re: Appeal of Ruling by Bishop Felton E. May concerning an Action of the Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference in Discontinuing Probationary Member.

Statement of Facts

At a plenary session of the Central Pennsylvania Conference on June 10, 1988, Bishop Felton E. May was asked for an episcopal ruling on the following question: As provided for in the Constitution of The United Methodist Church, I ask that you rule on these points of law during this Annual Conference. I have duly presented my questions in writing, as required. I ask for your decision to be reported to the body of the Annual Conference with utmost haste. Bishop May's response was: As an episcopal leader of the church, I am not a review commission nor an investigatory committee. Therefore, I cannot rule at this session of the annual conference on action taken by the Board of Ordained Ministry. I do hereby certify that at the 1986 session of the Central Pennsylvania Conference, this conference did vote and approve the report of the Board of Ordained Ministry thereby affirming the action taken in reference to Douglas Essinger-Hileman under the provisions of Paragraph 454.1 in the 1984 Book of Discipline. That is my ruling. Par. 454.1 in the 1984 Discipline states: Voluntary Termination.-1. By Discontinuance from Probationary Membership.-Probationary members may request discontinuance of this relationship or may be discontinued by the Annual Conference, upon the recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry, without reflection upon their character. When this relationship is discontinued, they shall no longer be permitted to exercise ministerial functions and shall surrender their credentials to the district superintendent for deposit with the secretary of the conference, and their membership transferred by the district superintendent to the local church which they designate after consultation with the pastor. The Board of Ordained Ministry shall file with the resident bishop a permanent record of the circumstances relating to discontinuance as a probationary member as required in  732.3(d). If after discontinuance, probationary members are classified and approved as local pastors in accordance with  408 and under the conditions outlined in  409, they may be permitted to retain their credentials of ordination and shall receive credit in the course of study for their theological work as the Division of Ordained Ministry shall determine. The 1984 Discipline states clearly and in enormous detail the procedure for admission and continuance of probationary membership as a minister in The United Methodist Church. See  413-417, 1984 Discipline. Par. 413 provides: Eligibility and Rights of Probationary Membership.-Probationary members are on trial in preparation for membership in full connection with the Annual Conference. They are on probation as to character, preaching, and effectiveness as pastors. The Annual Conference has jurisdiction over probationary members. Annually the Board of Ordained Ministry shall review and evaluate their relationship and make recommendation to the clergy members in full connection regarding their continuance. Probationary members may request discontinuance of this relationship or may be discontinued by the Annual Conference, upon recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry. (Par. 454.1), without reflection upon their character. Probationary members are completely under the jurisdiction of the Annual Conference but receiving advice and recommendations from the Board of Ordained Ministry. In this instance, the Board of Ordained Ministry recommended to the Executive Session of the Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference that the petitioner not be continued in probationary membership, which was done without any reflection on that person's character. The Executive Session concurred with that recommendation which was also approved by the Annual Conference. A detailed file concerning the petitioner was sent to the Judicial Council together with the action and ruling of Bishop May. Appearing at an open hearing on October 27, 1988 in Hershey, Pennsylvania were the Reverend Sandra D. Essinger-Hileman, Larry Selkowitz, counsel for Douglas Essinger-Hileman, and the Reverend Thomas C. Webb and the Reverend Ed Thigpen representing the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference. Bishop May correctly points out that there is a difference between a probationary member and a member in full connection and there is no provision for appeal of a decision made by the Annual Conference concerning a probationary member made on the recommendation of the Executive Session and, in turn, on the recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry. The ruling of Bishop May is affirmed.

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