Decision Number 524
A Ruling by Bishop Jack Tuell on Discipline Par. 444 Regarding Leave of Absence for a Minister Without Consent of the Minister.
Involuntary leave of absence under narrow circumstances is authorized by Par. 444. The minister or Cabinet may initiate such leave, through the Board of Ordained Ministry, but it must be granted by vote of the ministerial members in full connection. The ruling of the Bishop is affirmed.
Statement of Facts
On June 12, 1982 during the regular business session of the Pacific and Southwest Annual Conference there was submitted in writing to the presiding bishop, Jack M. Tuell, the following question:
Under the provisions of paragraph 444 of the 1980 Discipline regarding leave of absence, and in the light of Judicial Council Ruling 459, may the Annual Conference vote a leave of absence for a Minister without the Minister's consent?
Bishop Tuell ruled that subsequent to Decision 459 in 1979 the 1980 General Conference, after debate and discussion, adopted an amendment which permits such a leave to result either from the request of the minister or the initiation of the Cabinet so that:
… The Annual Conference may, following the procedures of Paragraph 444, grant a leave of absence to a Minister even though he or she does not agree to such action.
In this matter the minister involved, the Rev. Morris Floyd, requested a special appointment to Gay Community Services of Minneapolis, Minnesota. This request was refused in that it did not in any way require the presence of an ordained person and in that Bishop Tuell did not believe that the organization subscribed to the totality of the United Methodist position regarding homosexuality.
The minister was requested to accept a pastoral appointment, and in light of his failure to so accept, it was suggested that he request a leave of absence. The minister involved would not request a leave of absence.
The Cabinet then initiated the provisions of Article 444.1 and made a recommendation to the Board of Ordained Ministry, which concurred in the action and sent it to the Annual Conference. The ministerial members in full connection voted to grant a leave of absence.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2612 of the 1980 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
In Decision 459 we held that Par. 433 of the 1976 Discipline did not provide for the granting of an involuntary leave of absence. We pointed to Par. 430 which read in part:
Ministers seeking a change in Conference relationships shall make written request to their Board of Ordained Ministry … (emphasis added)
That language appears without change in Par. 443 of the 1980 Discipline.
We pointed out that, in the other paragraphs under the heading "Changes in Conference Relationship," in the two situations where a change could be made without request it was clearly and specifically provided that consent was not required. Par. 433 provided for location "without their consent" of ministers on leave residing outside the bounds of the Annual Conference who fail to forward an Annual Report. That wording remains unchanged in what is now Par. 444. Par. 434 provided under certain circumstances for placing "... any ministerial members in the retired relation with or without their consent . . . " That provision remains unchanged in what is now Par. 447.3.
In Decision 459 we referred to Decisions 380, 351 and 462 which speak of our Church's long history of concern for the protection of the rights of its members and ministers. Those statements are relevant here.
The 1980 General Conference adopted a report of the Committee on Higher Education and Ministry which amended Par. 433 of the 1976 Discipline.
It replaced the words,
this relationship is to be requested through the Board of Ordained Ministry and granted . . .
with the words:
this relationship may be initiated by the minister or the Cabinet, through the Board of Ordained Ministry, and granted . . .
This outlines clearly a change in the Discipline. The relationship, under certain circumstances, may be initiated either by the minister or the Cabinet. It then must be recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry and be granted by vote of the ministerial members in full connection.
Par. 37 of the Constitution states:
The Annual Conference is the basic body in the Church and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments, on the election of ministerial and lay delegates to the General and the Jurisdictional or Central Conferences, on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members, and on the ordination of ministers and such other rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution, with the exception that the lay members may not vote on matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of ministers. It shall discharge such duties and exercise such powers as the General Conference under the Constitution may determine.
In Decision 326 we have upheld the absolute right of the Annual Conference as the basic body of the Church to take such a vote.
We caution that this provision of the Discipline may be used to resolve problems of appointment only as a last resort. The Bishop and Cabinet must have used and exhausted their pastoral responsibilities. See Par. 501, et seq.
Exercise of this provision on an interim basis is subject to the approval of the Annual Conference at its next session.
We further point out that if error is made or injustice done there are remedies under our Discipline. (See Decision 492.)
A minister in The United Methodist Church cannot circumvent the itinerant system by stating that only a certain type of appointment is acceptable. An Annual Conference has the authority to grant involuntary location to a minister without consent and certainly has the authority to place a minister in a more honorable status providing that the minister may remain a full member of the Annual Conference.
Involuntary leave of absence under narrow circumstances is authorized by Par. 444. The minister or Cabinet may initiate such leave, through the Board of Ordained Ministry but it must be granted by vote of the ministerial members in full connection. The ruling of the Bishop is affirmed.
Leonard D. Slutz was absent.