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Memorandum No. 970

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October 23 2003
In Re: Review of the Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference on the Constitutionality of the Conference Housing Policy Adopted at its June 2003 Session.

Digest of Case

The Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference housing policy provides for housing to be provided for each appointed staff person irrespective of marital status. The policy is all-inclusive with respect to providing housing for clergy couples and does not violate ¶ 4. Article IV of the constitution. The Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference adopted a housing policy for Conference staff, effective June 1, 2003, that provides in part: New Appointed Staff The Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference shall provide a parsonage for each appointed staff person. If the appointed staff person is a part of a clergy couple, with the spouse receiving a parsonage as a part of his/her appointment as their place of residence, this shall constitute the provision of a parsonage by the IGRC. However, in this case, the IGRC shall assist the church/charge with the maintenance of said parsonage by providing a monthly stipend to the church/charge. During the regular session of the conference May 28-31, 2003, a clergy member submitted a written request to Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher for a decision of law on the constitutionality of the policy pertaining to clergy couples. The request submitted is as follows: Constitutional [question] since it treats clergy couples differently in regards to Housing ¶4, Article IV of the Constitution states “No Conference or other organizational unit of the church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, STATUS, or economic condition. The bishop ruled, “Article 4 pertains to inclusivity as it relates to participation and membership in The United Methodist Church and its organizational units. Housing policy does not exclude persons from such participation and membership and therefore is outside the purview of the disciplinary paragraph.” She further ruled that “[s]ince the conference shall provide a parsonage for each appointed staff person. . . ,” the policy “does not deprive the clergy couple of special privilege or benefit afforded to other clergy.” The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2000 Discipline. The decision of the bishop is affirmed. While the request is inartfully drawn, it is apparent that the constitutionality of the conference’s staff housing policy relating to newly appointed clergy couples is called into question. The Judicial Council has previously rendered decisions pertaining to clergy housing. In Decision 510, the Council ruled under the specific facts of the case before it that “a member of a clergy couple may not be deprived of a housing allowance even though the other member of the clergy couple has access to a parsonage.” In Decision 562, the Council ruled that each member of a clergy couple was not entitled to individual housing as a matter of right. In Memorandum 588, the Council ruled: . . . Therefore, if a clergy couple can be satisfactorily housed in the parsonage provided by one of the appointments, then the annual conference and the local church(s) have made “adequate provision.” Additional housing allowance, unless provided as additional compensation after negotiation, would then be reverse discrimination of the minister who is not married to a clergy spouse. However, we concur with Bishop Tuell’s exception “in which distance or other factors make housing in two locations necessary in order to provide ‘adequate housing.’” A comprehensive reading of the above cited Decisions indicates that the housing policy adopted by the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference does not violate the Constitution, the 2000 Discipline or prior Judicial Council Decisions. The housing policy adopted by the Conference provides for housing for each appointed staff person irrespective of marital status. All clergy are provided housing. The bishop points out in her answer that clergy couples, when one in the union is appointed to the conference staff, have the option of living in conference housing, local church housing, or living in both. If the couple chooses to live in the parsonage provided by the local church, the conference shall assist the church with the maintenance of the parsonage. The policy is all-inclusive with respect to providing housing for clergy and does not violate ¶ 4. Article IV of the Constitution. Sally Brown Geis was absent.

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