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Decision No. 1175

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October 29 2010
In Re: Review of a Bishop's Decision of Law in the Arkansas Annual Conference Regarding Repayment of Ministerial Education Fund Service Loans in Light of ¶ 816

Digest of Case

Paragraph 816.1a of the 2008 Discipline does not require, for repayment purposes, recipients of Ministerial Education Fund “service loans” to render service specifically in the annual conference from which the loans were received. It suffices that the five-year service be done within the “connection” in appointments approved by their bishop. The Bishop's decision of law is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

The facts are uncontroverted. In 2006, Jeanne Larson, now Rev. Williams by marriage, became a grantee of a student service loan of $13,250 from the Tennessee Annual Conference (TAC) for her seminary education. The TAC Office of Ministerial Concerns clarified to her that the loan is for tuition fee only; it is to be repaid through service in that annual conference as a commissioned member. Following her graduation from Perkins School of Theology, she moved to Arkansas Annual Conference (AAC), where she is now a provisional member. Because of her transfer, TAC called on her to repay the loan monetarily. She submitted a plan of repayment at $150 per month, without interest, beginning August, 2010. But she inquired from the Bishop, thru the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy session of the AAC last June, 2010, on the legality of the repayment in money in light of ¶ 816.1a of the Discipline. The question posed: Does paragraph 816.1a of the 2008 Book of Discipline, which states that service loans made from Ministerial Education Fund monies may be considered repaid if recipients serve five years in the “connection,” take precedence over the policy of an annual conference requiring service for repayment in a/their specific episcopal area? Bishop Charles N. Crutchfield of AAC ruled under authority of Article 51 of our Church Constitution. He noted that “the question relates to indebtedness asked all deacons and elders and to the use of general Church apportionment funds.” His decision, answering the query in the affirmative and in favor of the service loan grantee, is now before us for review.

Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2009 of the 2008 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
Paragraph 816.1a of the 2008 Discipline provides:
a) “Service Loans” from the conference portion of the Ministerial Education Fund may be considered repaid if the recipients served five years in the connection in appointments approved by their bishop.
It is crystal clear from this provision that Ministerial Education Fund service loans may be deemed repaid upon completion by the grantees of five years service. The sole qualification is that such service be rendered within the “connection” in appointments approved by their bishop. Elsewise stated, the seminary student loan is payable by service, as the term connotes, within the Church's connectional structure, by virtue of an appointment duly issued by the bishop of the conference or area wherever the grantee is assigned within the five-year period. It is not required that the service should take place specifically in the annual conference that granted or facilitated the loan. The rationale is evident from the nature of the loan and the main provision of ¶ 816. Service loan funds are sourced from the Ministerial Education Fund, a general Church apportionment. The annual conference merely serves as a fund custodian. The purpose of the fund is “to enable the Church to unify and expand its program of financial support for the recruitment and education of ordained and diaconal ministers and to equip the annual conferences to meet increased demands in their area. The Bishop is correct in ruling that ¶ 816.1a takes precedence over an annual conference policy requiring repayment of service loans by service in a specific episcopal area.

Decision

Paragraph 816.1a of the 2008 Discipline does not require, for repayment purposes, recipients of Ministerial Education Fund “service loans” to render service specifically in the annual conference from which the loans were received. It suffices that the five-year service be done within the “connection” in appointments approved by their bishop. Such service may take place in any annual conference or episcopal area to which recipients may transfer. This twin Disciplinary provision prevails over an annual conference policy to the contrary. The Bishop correctly ruled on the issue. We affirm. October 30, 2010.

Supplemental Opinion
The obligation to repay in money to the Tennessee Annual Conference, or any annual conference for that matter, from which the loan was received arises only under ¶ 816.1(b), if the grantees do not satisfy the requirement of service within the “connection”, thus: b) In case the recipients of the loans do not fully satisfy the terms of the “service loans” by service in the “connection”, they would make arrangements to repay the loans with the conference from which they received their loans. This supplemental provision covers any recipient who does not satisfy or is unable to comply with the terms of the service loan by service in the “connection”. Again, this means it is not necessary that the service be done exclusively in the annual conference through which the loan was obtained. Hence, no annual conference can change this policy. Any contrary requirement of an annual conference does not accord with the Discipline. It should not be implemented. Transfers from an annual conference to other conferences are within the purview of our Methodist connection. They satisfy the terms or condition of the loan that repayment by service be rendered within the connectional structure of the Church. Likewise, as the episcopal ruling aptly noted, the loan is an investment in the ministry of the whole Church, not just one annual conference. It is, I wish to add, a most worthy investment. This conclusion coheres with the avowed aim for which the Ministerial Education Fund was established. As part of the rationale, I cannot agree more with the overarching objective of the Fund. We need to encourage entry into the ministry and to instill in our seminarians the virtue of faithfulness and loyalty. Chances toward achieving that desirable end are enhanced when they are made to repay the cost of their tuition by way of service. Church service is something no currency can recompense. Ruben T. Reyes October 30, 2010
Dissenting Opinion
For me, the clear permissive language of ¶ 816.1a makes it permitted, but not mandated, that service loans from conference portions of Ministerial Education Fund be repaid anywhere in the connection in appointments approved by one’s bishop. In addition, ¶ 816.1 states that the conference portion of Ministerial Education Fund shall be spent “as approved by the annual conference and administered through its Board of Ordained Ministry.” The annual conference may choose either to enter into reciprocal re-payment plans or may choose not to do so. F. Belton Joyner, Jr. October 30, 2010

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