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Decision No. 1122

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October 30 2009
In Re: Review of a Decision of Law by Bishop William W. Hutchinson of the Louisiana Conference as to Whether ¶ 247.13 is Violated by the Practice of the Setting of Clergy Compensation by the Charge Conference Prior to Knowing the Exact Amount of the Annual Health Insurance Program

Digest of Case

A health insurance premium paid by a local church is not a compensation amount, but rather is a benefit provided by the annual conference to pay the actual expense of health insurance. The amount of health insurance premium is not an amount over which a local church has jurisdiction and is not determined by the charge conference. The bishop’s decision of law is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

During the 2009 regular session of the Louisiana Annual Conference, the presiding bishop received a request in writing for a bishop’s decision of law. The text of the question of law is set forth as supplied in the record presented:

¶247.13 (page 162) of the 2008 Book of Discipline states: The charge conference shall set the compensation of the pastor and other appointed staff. Most Louisiana charge conferences meet to do so in late September through early November. The Board of Pensions consistently does NOT publish medical insurance premiums for the coming year until AFTER most charge conferences have met. (will not meet until October) Since insurance IS a part of compensation, the net effect is that the Board of Pensions is deciding compensation, NOT the charge conference. Two questions – 1. Can’t the Board of Pensions adjust their schedule so we can set compensation within the guidelines of the Discipline? 2. If not, I would question the Disciplinary legality of our current practice?
The bishop rendered his decision of law during the annual conference session and submitted his decision of law to the Judicial Council for its review. The relevant portion of the bishop’s decision is as follows:
The health insurance premium is not a compensation amount to be determined by the local church. It is payment for a benefit provided by the Louisiana Annual Conference. The health insurance premium for the self-funded program of the Louisiana Annual Conference is determined by the Conference Board of Pensions and is assessed to every local church. This is not an amount over which a local church has jurisdiction, and thus is not to be determined by a Charge Conference. (cf. Paragraph 1507, Book of Discipline, 2008)
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction pursuant to ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
Paragraph 247.13 of the 2008 Discipline states the following:
The charge conference shall in consultation with the district superintendent set the compensation of the pastor and other staff appointed by the bishop.
The health insurance premium is not a compensation amount, but rather is a payment for a benefit provided by the Louisiana Annual Conference. Health insurance premiums are determined by the health insurance provider based on a variety of factors. The amount of health insurance premium is not an amount over which a local church has jurisdiction and is not determined by the Charge Conference. In Decision 51, the Judicial Council determined that an allowance for travel expenses to pastors is not to be regarded as supplementary compensation, provided that such item represents an actual expense for the purpose stated and is not a cover-up for additional salary paid to the pastor. The Louisiana Annual Conference practice of setting clergy compensation by charge conference action prior to knowing the exact amount of the annual health insurance premium does not violate ¶ 247.13 of the Discipline.

Decision

A health insurance premium paid by a local church is not a compensation amount, but rather is a benefit provided by the annual conference to pay the actual expense of health insurance. The amount of health insurance premium is not an amount over which a local church has jurisdiction and is not determined by the charge conference. The bishop’s decision of law is affirmed.

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