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Decision No. 906

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April 25 2001
In Re: Request from the Holston Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision as to the Meaning of ¶ 420 of the 1992 Discipline Pertaining to the Election of Full-Time Local Pastors to Associate Membership and the Ability to Equate Part-Time Service to Fulfill the Requirement of Full-Time Service.

Digest of Case

Par. 420.2 of the 1992 Discipline permits an annual conference, upon recommendation of the board of ordained ministry, to exercise its discretion to equate part-time service as a local pastor which has already been completed to the requirement of full-time service, after considering the years of service involved, the quality of that service, the maturity of the applicant, and other relevant factors. Par. 420.2 of the 1992 Discipline does not permit an annual conference to equate part-time service as a local pastor which has not yet been served to the requirement of full-time service in the exercise of its discretion. Whether part-time service is to be equated to the requirement of full-time service is solely entrusted to the sound discretion of the annual conference, upon recommendation of the board of ordained ministry. Annual conferences are not required to equate part-time service to full-time service.

Statement of Facts

At the June 15, 1999 meeting of the Holston Annual Conference, the chairperson of the board of ordained ministry “made a motion that Paragraph 420.1 and 420.2 of The Discipline regarding the relationship of part-time service to full-time service for clergy statue [sic] be referred for clarification and ruling by the Judicial Council.” The Holston Annual Conference approved the motion by voice vote. Prior to the 1999 session of the Holston Annual Conference, a part-time local pastor, who had served under appointment for nine years, requested that he be admitted to associate membership in the Annual Conference. The part-time local pastor indicated that it was his desire to remain part-time for five more years. The part-time local pastor requested that the board of ordained ministry equate part-time service already served and “to be served” to full-time service. In considering the part-time local pastor’s request, the board of ordained ministry interpreted ¶ 420.2 to provide for equating part-time service “completed,” not “to be served,” to full-time service, and denied the part-time local pastor’s request for associate membership. Through a series of mistakes in transmitting the request to the Judicial Council, the request did not reach the Judicial Council until the April 2001 session. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction in this matter under ¶ 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Par. 420.1 of the 1992 Discipline sets forth the requirements for election of clergy as associate members of an annual conference. When the 1996 General Conference modified the clergy orders, certain transition provisions were adopted. Importantly for this matter, both the 1996 and 2000 Disciplines provide: All persons having begun candidacy for diaconal ministry, deacon’s and elder’s ordination and conference membership, or full-time local pastors prior to January 1, 1997, will be allowed to proceed under the provisions of the 1992 Book of Discipline (¶¶ 305-306, 419-421). These continuing procedures must be completed under the provisions set forth in the 1992 Book of Discipline. [¶ 365.1, 1996 Discipline; ¶ 366.1, 2000 Discipline] The 2000 General Conference modified the final sentence of the language just quoted as follows: These continuing procedures must be completed under the provisions set forth in the 1992 Book of Discipline prior to December 31, 2008, after which date the provisions of the current Book of Discipline will govern the process by which persons enter ministry. [¶ 366.1, 2000 Discipline] Thus, until December 31, 2008, full-time local pastors may continue to be elected to associate membership in an annual conference if they comply with the relevant provisions of the 1992 Discipline, namely ¶¶ 419-421. In this matter, the Holston Annual Conference asks for guidance on how it is to apply ¶ 420.2 of the 1992 Discipline with respect to a local pastor who seeks election as an associate member, and who has been a part-time local pastor prior to January 1, 1997. Par. 420.1 of the 1992 Discipline, among other requirements, requires that a person requesting admission to an annual conference as an associate member have “served four years as a full-time local pastor. . . .” Par. 420.2 of the 1992 Discipline provides: Upon recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry, an Annual Conference may equate part-time service to the requirement of full-time service. Such equivalence is to be determined in light of the years of service involved, the quality of that service, the maturity of the applicant, and other relevant factors. Par. 420.2 of the 1992 Discipline places the determination of whether part-time service is to be equated with full-time service in the sound discretion, in the first instance, of the board of ordained ministry, and then, upon its recommendation, in the sound discretion of the annual conference. (See Decisions 343 and 572.) Par. 420.2 is permissive. An annual conference is not required to equate part-time service to the requirement of full-time service. A permissive provision such as ¶ 420.2 leaves open the possibility that some annual conferences may choose to equate part-time service to the requirement of full-time service, and some may not. In addition, in some conferences such part-time service may be equated to full-time service for one person and not another depending on the circumstances of each candidate for associate membership. A plain reading of ¶ 420.2 of the 1992 Discipline requires that the part-time service have been completed and not be anticipated to be served in the future, in order for there to be a basis to exercise the discretion granted by that paragraph. Nothing in the 1992 Discipline suggests that events not yet having occurred, such as then unserved years of part-time service, can be considered in exercising such discretion. The exercise of discretion in such circumstances would exceed the authority granted to the board of ordained ministry and the annual conference in ¶ 420.2 of the 1992 Discipline. Prior decisions of the Judicial Council have only affirmed the exercise of discretion to equate part-time service already completed with full-time service. See Decisions 343 and 572.

Decision

Par. 420.2 of the 1992 Discipline permits an annual conference, upon recommendation of the board of ordained ministry, to exercise its discretion to equate part-time service as a local pastor which has already been completed to the requirement of full-time service, after considering the years of service involved, the quality of that service, the maturity of the applicant, and other relevant factors. Par. 420.2 of the 1992 Discipline does not permit an annual conference to equate part-time service as a local pastor which has not yet been served to the requirement of full-time service in the exercise of its discretion. Whether part-time service is to be equated to the requirement of full-time service is solely entrusted to the sound discretion of the annual conference, upon recommendation of the board of ordained ministry. Annual conferences are not required to equate part-time service to full-time service.

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