Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 156
October 16 1958
In Re: Request for the Definition of the Terms "Part-Time" and "Full-Time" as Applied to Approved Supply Pastors
Digest of Case
The determination of the meaning of the words "part-time approved supply pastor" and "full-time approved supply pastor" as used in Paragraph 317 (2) and (3) of the Discipline (1956 edition) is a legislative matter within the province of the General Conference and is not a judicial matter to be determined by the Judicial Council.
Statement of Facts
At the 1956 Area Workshops of the Conference Boards of Ministerial Training of the Annual Conferences, the following Resolution was adopted: " Whereas, the members of the - Workshop of Chairmen and Registrars of Conference Boards of Ministerial Training and Qualifications have found themselves confronted with the problem of interpreting the meaning of the terms 'Part-time' and 'Full-time' as applied to Approved Supply Pastors in Paragraph 317, Sections 2 and 3 of the 1956 Discipline of The Methodist Church. "Be It Resolved, that we hereby request the Department of Ministerial Education of The General Board of Education to Petition The Judicial Council of The Methodist Church to issue a Declaratory Decision as to what constitutes a 'Part-time' and what constitutes a 'Full-time Approved Supply Pastor."' Subsequently, Dr. J. Richard Spann, Director of the Department of In-service Training of the Division of Educational Institutes of The General Board of Education, forwarded a copy of such a Resolution to The Judicial Council with the request it make the decision indicated. The General Board of Education later joined in that request. JURISDICTION We have jurisdiction to make the decision requested under Paragraph 914 (2) of the Discipline of The Methodist Church. ANALYSIS Paragraph 317 of the 1956 Discipline provides inter alia: "2. Part-time approved supply pastors (other than students as defined in section 1). Unless ordained elders, these shall complete at least two books annually in the ministerial course of study under the Department of Ministerial Education. (See Paragraph 307, section 2.) "3. Full-time approved supply pastors. Unless ordained elders, these shall take the ministerial course of study under the Department of Ministerial Education and complete the entire course within eight years. (See Paragraph 307, section 2.) " Neither that paragraph nor any other paragraph of the Discipline gives any definition of the terms "Part-time" or "Full-time." We are informed some Annual Conferences consider any supply pastor who has other employment as "Part-time" while others consider as "Part-time" one who serves a church or churches that pay less than such Annual Conference's minimum salary. We are now requested to give an opinion as to the meaning of the terms mentioned above. It should be noted that the request submitted to us does not arise out of any case legally pending before the Council involving the rights of persons or institutions but is, rather, a mere request for a definition. It is entirely possible that it would be good if the terms in question (and, for that matter, all other common terms) might have or be susceptible of universal and definite meaning and acceptance; however, the wide variation in the use of words and phrases renders definition and construction exceedingly difficult if not impossible except in definite cases and under well-defined circumstances. Unfortunately, the Discipline itself contains no definition of the terms which are questioned in this appeal to the Council, nor is there any language in the Discipline indicating a legislative intent which might be of assistance in arriving at the will of the legislative body in this connection. As was said by this Council in its Decision No. 26, the General Conference is thoroughly competent to define such terms as it desires, and it is our opinion that it is the responsibility of the General Conference to supply this deficiency if one exists and that this is not a question of judicial interpretation.
It is, therefore, the decision of the Judicial Council that the determination of the meaning of the words "part-time approved supply pastor" and "full-time approved supply pastor" as used in Paragraph 317 (2) and (3) of the 1956 Discipline of The Methodist Church is a legislative matter within the province of the General Conference and is not a judicial matter to be settled by the Judicial Council. Dissenting Opinion Regretfully, I must dissent from the last three paragraphs of the Council's analysis and its decision. One of the main functions of a judicial body is the construing of legislation and the words used in it. It is manifestly impractical for a legislative body to define every word it uses in its enactments, and, of course, in general they do not attempt to do so. Nor is there always in their proceedings an indication of their intention as to the meaning of undefined words they have used. This is why judicial bodies so frequently are called on to do the defining. The Discipline recognizes this as one of our functions and responsibilities when it directs us in proper cases as to General Conference Legislation in Paragraph 914 to make declaratory decisions "as to the meaning, application, and effect of such act, legislation or paragraph or paragraphs of the Discipline" when any such legislation "appears to be subject to more than one interpretation" or seems "to be of doubtful meaning." (italics mine). Obviously we cannot do this without determining the meaning of the words used by the General Conference even if it has not defined them and has not indicated its intention as to their meaning. The rule of construction used in the civil courts, when a legislature has not defined a word and has not given any indication of the intended meaning, is that the word is presumed to have been used in its common and ordinary meaning. Courts usually refer, as the Council on occasion has, to Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, for a definition of the meaning of a word. The first definitions Webster gives for "part" is "one of the portions, equal or unequal, into which anything is divided, or regarded as divided; some thing less than a whole . . . " and it seems to me that is the way the word is commonly and ordinarily understood. Since each of the phrases under consideration contain the word "time," time must be the criterion rather than other employment or lack of minimum salary as the majority opinion indicates some Annual Conferences consider. It then seems to me to follow that a "part-time approved supply pastor" is an approved supply pastor who devotes a portion or something less than the whole of his time to pastoral duties, and a "full-time approved supply pastor" is one who devotes his whole time to such duties. In Decision No. 26, of course, I think the Council did not perform its proper function nor meet its responsibility, as I think it is not in this Decision. I do not mean in anything I have said to suggest that the General Conference does not have the right to define these or any other words it uses in its enactments, because, of course, it does. But when it does not, in a case that is properly before us as the majority admit this one is, I think we should. Ivan Lee Holt, Jr.