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Decision No. 713

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October 28 1994
In Re: Legality of Conference Action Making Eligibility for Appointment Contingent on Payment of Medical Insurance Premiums.

Digest of Case

An Annual Conference may not adopt a policy which deprives clergy members in full connection, probationary members, or associate members of due process by restricting appointment of those for whom medical insurance premiums have not been paid.

Statement of Facts

In the 1994 session, the East Ohio Conference adopted a policy governing Hospitalization Premium Payments for pastors by local churches. As proposed, it provided, in part, that: any church having a balance due for hospitalization billing from the previous year ... will be notified of such balance .... If no satisfactory repayment schedule can be negotiated prior to Annual Conference, the pastor's coverage for that charge will be terminated July 1 of the year following the delinquency and no additional persons will be enrolled. An amendment was approved by the conference, adding the words "and no pastor without medical coverage shall be appointed to that church/charge." A motion was adopted to petition the Judicial Council for a decision as to the legality of the amendment. Supporting discussion and documents argue that the limitation imposed by the amendment is in conflict with the Disciplinary authority given to the bishop to make appointments. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2616 of the 1992 Discipline. Analysis The issue of legality of the amendment does not center on the power of the bishop to make appointments, as is argued by some in opposition to the amendment. The authority given bishops to make appointments is not absolute and unconditional. The Constitution and Discipline give the clergy members of the Annual Conference in full connection authority to determine who shall be eligible for appointment (Pars. 36, 404-459), and the Discipline places certain conditions on the making of appointments (Pars. 437, 443, et al.). The amendment is unconstitutional in that it could declare one or more clergy members in full connection, probationary members, or associate members ineligible for appointment to certain churches without the process required in any matter dealing with conference relations and the rights and privileges of conference membership. This same issue does not necessarily arise in the case of local pastors, since their eligibility is determined one year at a time and may be terminated without the due process guaranteed other clergy members of the Annual Conference. This is not to say that if the amendment were reworded to apply only to local pastors it would then be legal. That question is not before us. The amendment as adopted is unconstitutional because it may be applied in such fashion as to deprive some clergy members of their rights under the Constitution of The United Methodist Church.

Decision

An Annual Conference may not adopt a policy which deprives clergy members in full connection, probationary members, or associate members of due process by restricting appointment of those for whom medical insurance premiums have not been paid. Dissenting Opinion While I do not disagree with the substantive discussion of this issue, I must respectfully disagree on the matter of jurisdiction. The Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction. Par. 2616 of the 1992 Discipline gives the Judicial Council "jurisdiction to make a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act or legislation of a General Conference. . . ." As we said in Memorandum 609, "(i)n this case we are being asked to decide not on the meaning or effect of any part of the Discipline but rather to decide on an action of an Annual Conference. Decision 443 properly states "(w)e have no right to do so." Sally Curtis AsKew Susan Henry-Crowe October 29, 1994

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