Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 112
July 28 1955
In Re: Ruling by Bishop Watkins on Whether An Approved Supply Pastor Can Be Elected By His Charge as a Lay Member of the Annual Conference
Digest of Case
An Approved Supply Pastor represents his Charge as a pastor in every respect except the right to vote. Therefore he cannot represent the charge in the dual capacity of Pastor and Lay Member at the same time.
Statement of Facts
On June 12, 1954 at the session of the Memphis Annual Conference, Wm. M. O'Donnell presented a request for a ruling by the presiding Bishop Wm. T. Watkins as follows: "You are respectfully requested to rule whether a charge served as pastor by an Approved Supply, may elect that Approved Supply Pastor as the Lay Member of the Annual Conference for that charge." On June 13, 1954 Bishop Watkins presented to the Conference his ruling on the question proposed as follows: "The Constitution of the Church specifies that each pastoral charge shall have a lay representative in the Annual Conference. (Par. 21). The General Conference has enacted that a Supply Pastor may speak upon the Conference floor, but without vote. (Par. 317). To elect a Supply Pastor as a Lay Delegate from the pastoral charge meets neither of these requirements. Many Supply Pastors are Elders and exercise all functions of the Ministry and all Supply Pastors in charge of churches function as ministers and not as laymen and to elect one of them as a Delegate to the Annual Conference is to deny the charge involved lay representation as required by the Constitution of the Church, and it is to grant to the Supply Pastor involved a vote in the Annual Conference which is prohibited by act of the General Conference. Therefore a charge may not elect a Supply Pastor as its representative in the Annual Conference." JURISDICTION Division four, Article II (Par. 43 of the 1952 Discipline) reads in part as follows: "Art. II. The Judicial Council shall have authority:-- 3. To pass upon Decisions of Law made by Bishops in Annual or District Conferences." The official transcript of the daily proceedings of the Memphis Annual Conference held at Jackson, Tenn., in June 1954, shows clearly that the above request for a ruling and Bishop Watkins' ruling were submitted to the Conference in writing in regular sessions of the Conference. Accordingly, the Judicial Council has jurisdiction to review and pass upon said ruling by Bishop Watkins by the authority of the Constitution and Paragraph 909 of the 1952 Discipline. ANALYSIS Par. 21, Art. 1 of the Constitution (Discipline 1952) states: "The Annual Conference shall be composed of all the traveling preachers in Full Connection with it, together with a Lay Member elected by each pastoral charge. . . ." The question involved in this case is, in which category, if either, does an Approved Supply Pastor belong? Clearly he is not a traveling preacher in Full Connection with the Conference. Can he then be regarded as a layman and as such eligible for election as a lay member of the Annual Conference? There is little question that from the beginning of The Methodist Church the term Local Preacher has meant a layman who has been granted the privilege of preaching the Word and who is responsible to the District and Quarterly Conference for his license to preach. However, as time went on and the need for preachers increased with the expansion and growth of the Church a new relationship arose in the local ministry of the Church known as the Approved Supply relationship which is granted to certain qualified Local Preachers by vote of the Annual Conference making them eligible to be appointed as Pastors of charges and to assume most of the duties, responsibilities and privileges of a traveling preacher in Full Connection in the Annual Conference, except the right to vote. The Approved Supply is responsible to the Annual Conference which alone has jurisdiction over his authority to preach. The whole history of Methodist legislation leads to the conclusion that a Local Preacher who has been made an Approved Supply and appointed Pastor of a charge cannot be regarded as a layman. Even though he holds his membership and Quarterly Conference relations with the church he serves, he is not a layman but a Pastor in charge and is amenable to the Annual Conference as no layman is or can be. (Par. 307, 1952, Discipline). He receives his salary from the local church, not as a layman but as Pastor. He submits a Report to the Annual Conference, not as a layman but as a Pastor. He represents his charge in the Annual Conference, speaks on the floor of the Conference and is required to attend the sessions not as a layman but as a Pastor. If charges are brought against him for offenses enumerated in Paragraph 921 of the Discipline he is brought to trial, not as a layman, but as any other preacher in like standing. When he retires he is eligible for a pension through the Board of Conference Claimants because he served the church as a Pastor. There is much merit in Bishop Watkins' statement that to elect an Approved Supply Pastor as a lay member in the Annual Conference is to deny the charge involved lay representation as required by the Constitution. But it is equally true that it would deny the charge involved of pastoral representation which the Approved Supply Pastor does in every respect except the right to vote. For an Approved Supply Pastor to represent his charge in the Conference in the dual capacity of Pastor and Lay Member would violate the Constitutional requirement concerning lay representation and defeat the purpose of Methodist legislation concerning Local Preachers serving as Approved Supply Pastors. Furthermore the question of full and adequate lay representation in the Annual and General Conferences was a pronounced issue in the original Methodist Church in America as early as 1820. The denial of such representation by the 1828 General Conference gave rise to the organization of the Methodist Protestant Church. Under the Plan of Union finally adopted in 1938 and put into operation by the Uniting Conference in 1939 the Methodist Protestant Church was united with the other two branches of historical Methodism in America to form The Methodist Church. This Plan of Union, overwhelmingly accepted by the Methodist Protestant Church, is now the Constitution of the United Church. Par. 21 of this Constitution specifically provides that the Annual Conference shall be composed of all the traveling preachers in Full Connection with it together with a Lay Member elected by each pastoral charge. In the opinion of the Judicial Council this provision must be interpreted in the light of the history of unification and the basic change in lay representation provided in the Plan of Union, and not in the light of former interpretations made by the Methodist Episcopal Church, or the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. When so considered it is conclusive that a person serving as Pastor of a charge and being amenable to the Annual Conference in all respects as a traveling preacher, (even though he cannot vote in the Annual Conference), is not such a "Lay Member" as is contemplated by Par. 21 of the Constitution.
It is therefore the Decision of the Judicial Council that a charge served by an Approved Supply Pastor may not elect said Approved Supply Pastor as the lay member of the Annual Conference for that charge. Accordingly the ruling of Bishop Watkins is hereby affirmed.