Skip Navigation

Judicial Council Decisions Search


Decision No. 716

Back to Search

Share:

October 28 1994
In Re: Eligibility of Clergy Member Under Suspension to Participate in the Ministerial Pension Plan or Comprehensive Protection Plan and Legality of Annual Conference Contract with Outside Parties for Pension or Insurance Benefits for Clergy Member under Suspension.

Digest of Case

The decision of the bishop (1) that a member of the Annual Conference who is suspended is not eligible to participate in the Ministerial Pension Plan or the Comprehensive Protection Plan is affirmed; and (2) that the Annual Conference may not, in order to comply with a decision of a Trial Court, enter into a contract with outside parties for the purchase of pension benefits on behalf of a clergy member who has been placed on suspension by the Clergy Session of that Annual Conference is not affirmed.

Statement of Facts

On October 23, 1993, following a trial, a clergy member of the South Carolina Annual Conference was suspended for two years. This suspension was to be without salary but with pension and insurance benefits. Pension benefits were continued until ratification of the Trial Court's verdict by the Clergy Session of the Annual Conference in 1994. Insurance benefits were in effect until the clergy member requested they be cancelled because of his participation in a health insurance plan through his current employer. At the Clergy Session of the 1994 Annual Conference Bishop Joseph Bethea was asked to rule on the following questions: (1) Does a clergy member of an Annual Conference, who is an Active Participant in the Annual Conference Ministerial Pension Plan (MPP) and Comprehensive Protection Plan (CPP) adopted by the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, but who has been put under Suspension by the action of the Clergy Session, remain eligible to be an Active Participant in MPP or CPP? (2) May an Annual Conference, in order to comply with a decision of a Trial Court, enter into a contract with outside parties for the purchase of pension or insurance benefits on behalf of a clergy member who has been placed on suspension by the Clergy Session of that Annual Conference? Bishop Bethea ruled as follows: (1) I must rule that following suspension by the Clergy Session of an Annual Conference, a member does not remain eligible to participate in the Ministerial Pension Plan or the Comprehensive Protection Plan for the following reasons: (1) The condition of eligibility for Active Participants in MPP found in Ministerial Pension Plan Document Section 3.01(a) (3), "a Clergy member of a Conference under Episcopal Appointment" means "an appointment by a bishop pursuant to Sections V and VI of Chapter 3 of The Book of Discipline or pursuant to rules of the Puerto Rico Methodist Church." (MPP section 2.40) A clergy member suspended by the Clergy Session of an Annual Conference cannot be appointed and, therefore, cannot be an Active Participant in the Ministerial Pension Plan. (2) The condition of eligibility for Active Participants in CPP found in Comprehensive Protection Plan Document Section 3.01(a) (3), "a Clergy member of a Conference" has the following proviso: " . . . provided that such a person in (3) or (4) or (5) is receiving a Plan Compensation at least equivalent to 60% of the applicable Conference Average Compensation or 60% of the Denominational Average Compensation, whichever is less." Unless the Clergy member is receiving salary from a qualified salary-paying unit recognized by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, he/she would not be eligible to be an Active Participant in the Comprehensive Protection Plan." (2) In response to this question, the following Paragraph of The Book of Discipline appears to apply specifically: Paragraph 1606.11(a) "An Annual Conference may not make any arrangement with a life insurance company for the purchase of annuities for the benefit of individual effective or retired ministers or take any steps to nullify, in whole or in part, the pension plans and programs of The United Methodist Church by making contracts with outside parties. (See Judicial Council Decision 585)." Therefore, I must rule that an Annual Conference, in order to comply with the decision of a Trial Court, may not enter into a contract with outside parties for the purchase of pension or insurance benefits on behalf of a clergy member who has been placed on suspension by the Clergy Session of that Annual Conference. After the announcement of the above decisions, a motion was made to appeal the bishop's decisions to the Judicial Council. This motion was passed. Susan Henry-Crowe and Theodore Walter recused themselves and did not participate in any of the proceedings related to this issue. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2614 of the 1992 Discipline . ANALYSIS It is apparent that the Trial Court in this case made every effort to care for the needs of the clergy member it suspended. To require that a clergy member suspended from carrying out the functions of the office be covered by pension and insurance benefits is evidence of that care and of the expectation that the member would comply with other portions of the Trial Court's verdict in order to become an effective member of the Annual Conference at the end of the suspension. A clergy member of an Annual Conference who has been suspended for a stated period of time following a properly conducted trial is not an active member of the Annual Conference during the time of suspension. To be a participant in the Ministerial Pension Plan or Comprehensive Protection Plan a clergy member must be an active member of an Annual Conference serving under appointment of a bishop. A person who is suspended from "exercise of the functions of office" (Par. 2626) is precluded from being appointed by the bishop and, therefore, cannot participate in either the Ministerial Pension Plan or Comprehensive Protection Plan. However, there is nothing in the Discipline to preclude a Annual Conference from contracting with outside parties for pension benefits. Par. 606.11(a) does preclude such contracts for the benefit for "individual effective or retired ministers." The minister under suspension by the Annual Conference is not an effective minister during the time of the suspension. The South Carolina Annual Conference may contract with outside parties for pension benefits for the clergy member during the period of suspension. However, if the clergy member does not wish to be covered by a pension plan provided by an outside party, that portion of the Trial Court's verdict may be waived by the clergy member.

Decision

The decision of the bishop (1) that a member of the Annual Conference who is suspended is not eligible to participate in the Ministerial Pension Plan or the Comprehensive Protection Plan is affirmed; and (2) that the Annual Conference may not, in order to comply with a decision of a Trial Court, enter into a contract with outside parties for the purchase of pension benefits on behalf of a clergy member who has been placed on suspension by the Clergy Session of that Annual Conference is not affirmed.

Back to Search

Share: