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Decision No. 629

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October 26 1989
In Re: Appeal From the Bishop's Ruling in the Virginia Conference Concerning a Board of Ordained Ministry Recommendation to Continue a Ministerial Member on Leave of Absence.

Digest of Case

The ruling of Bishop Robert Blackburn of the Virginia Conference that a 90-day notice to a member being continued on leave of absence was not necessary under  450.2 of the 1984 Discipline is reversed.

Statement of Facts

In 1987 the Virginia Annual Conference placed a member of the clergy on leave of absence at the request of the member. More than six months prior to the 1988 Virginia Annual Conference session, the member made a request to the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry to end the leave of absence. In accordance with  450.2 of the 1984 Discipline the Board of Ordained Ministry reviewed the request and determined that there had not been sufficient change in circumstances to warrant recommending that the member's leave of absence be ended. The member was notified of this recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry, and the recommendation was forwarded to the Executive Session of the Annual Conference. The Executive Session voted to continue the leave of absence for the following year. The Bishop was asked to rule on the position taken by the Board of Ordained Ministry that a 90-day notice was not required for the continuation of a leave of absence under  450.2. Bishop Blackburn ruled that the board had followed proper procedure and that no 90-day notice was required. The Annual Conference voted to appeal that decision to the Judicial Council. The Rev. Pat B. Tony and G. Kenneth Miller, Esq. appeared at oral hearings on October 26, 1989, in Williamsburg, Virginia. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under  2611 of the 1984 Discipline. ANALYSIS While the continuation of any leave of absence may be viewed differently from the granting of such leave and the Discipline makes no distinction between voluntary and involuntary leaves of absence in the continuation of such leaves, the wording of  450.1 of the 1984 Discipline is ambiguous on this point. Ambiguities must be construed in favor of the person affected. Par. 450.1 states "This relation shall be approved annually upon the written requests of the ministerial member or the Cabinet with or without the consent of the ministerial member at least ninety (90) days prior to Annual Conference. . . ." It at least implies that it is necessary for the member to be notified ninety days prior to the Annual Conference session. Par. 450.2 appears to deal only with requests to end a leave. If the request of a member to end the leave of absence is recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry, no further steps are required. However, in this case the granting of the member's request to end the leave of absence was not recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry. Therefore, reference to  450.1 was necessary. Par. 442 of the Discipline states: The Church shall provide and the minister is entitled to receive not less than the equitable salary established by the Annual Conference for ministerial members according to the provisions of Par. 772.3. Therefore, since at the time of the 1988 Virginia Annual Conference session the member was in good standing, the conference must provide that support from July 1, 1988, until August 12, 1988 the date of his conviction. See Decision 628.

Decision

Par. 450.1 of the 1984 Discipline requires that the Board of Ordained Ministry make its decision on its recommendation to the Annual Conference concerning the ending or continuation of a leave of absence 90 days prior to the Annual Conference session. This at least implies that notification of the recommendation be given at that time. Therefore, the Virginia Annual Conference must provide compensation to the minister for the period of time from July 1, 1988 until August 12, 1988. The decision of the bishop is reversed.

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