Decision Number 522
A Ruling by Bishop James S. Thomas on Involuntary Retirement and the Rights of a Minister Based on Discipline Par. 447.3.
The Board of Ordained Ministry and the East Ohio Conference acted in accordance with the Discipline in its action in 1981 that an elder in good standing be given involuntary retirement under Par. 447.3, and in its later action in 1982 affirming the 1981 action. The bishop's ruling is affirmed.
Statement of Facts
On April 1, 1981, the Board of Ordained Ministry of the East Ohio Conference, after several previous actions, voted to recommend that O. Lloyd Hutchison, an elder and full member of the Conference in good standing, be involuntarily retired under the provisions of Discipline Par. 447.3, which states:
By a two-thirds vote of those present and voting, the ministerial members of the Annual Conference in full connection may place any ministerial member in the retired relation with or without their consent and irrespective of age if such relation is recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Cabinet.
On April 2, 1981, the Cabinet, without the Bishop present, voted unanimously to concur.
On June 22, 1981, in the Executive Session of the Conference, the Chairman of the Board of Ordained Ministry, David Case, moved that Mr. Hutchison "be retired involuntarily according to Par. 447.3." Mr. Hutchison read a paper asking for full investigation and stating he was willing to be brought to trial and for a Judicial Council review. Following a discussion that continued for thirty minutes, Mr. Hutchison moved as a substitute motion that his name be withdrawn from involuntary retirement. His motion failed with 100 votes for and 303 against. The original motion passed by a vote of 312-106. Mr. Hutchison then moved to appeal to the Judicial Council the ruling of Bishop James Thomas that his rights had not been denied by the Conference action for involuntary retirement. The vote on the motion was 35 for and 293 against, and thus it failed to receive the necessary one-fifth vote, and was defeated.
A year later, on June 14, 1982, Mr. Hutchison made an extended statement to the Conference and moved that he be reinstated in an effective relationship. A substitute motion was then made that the present session support the 1981 Conference decision regarding Mr. Hutchison's retirement status. The conference approved the substitute motion as the main motion and it was adopted, continuing Mr. Hutchison in the retired relation.
Mr. Hutchison then sought in writing a Bishop's ruling. Bishop Thomas has forwarded to the Council his ruling, as follows:
The Board of Ordained Ministry of the East Ohio Annual Conference acted properly and in accordance with the Book of Discipline in recommending that O. Lloyd Hutchison be involuntarily retired. This action was taken in 1981 and remains in force in 1982.
Briefs with complete documentation and chronology were filed with the Council from the conference office and from the appellant. With the latter were more than twenty-five letters of character reference. An oral hearing was held at the session of the Judicial Council in Lakeland, Florida, April 21, 1983, at which the Rev. O. Lloyd Hutchison appeared.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2612 of the 1980 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The action of the East Ohio Conference in voting involuntary retirement for O. Lloyd Hutchison climaxed a long and involved process which began with the granting of a requested Leave of Absence in June 1980, when the Cabinet declared Mr. Hutchison "unappointable." Efforts were made to provide an appointment but none could be made available, due in part to the conditions surrounding his one-year pastorate at Ebenezer Church, Tiffin. The chronology of the process contains 43 separate events and includes various meetings with Mr. Hutchison by the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Committee of Seven, the Bishop and the Cabinet. In addition a voluminous correspondence carried on by Mr. Hutchison has been provided the Council.
In Decision 351 the Judicial Council states in part:
The United Methodist Church has a heritage of concern with the rights of persons. That concern has repeatedly made provision for the protection for the rights of its members and its ministers . . .The Constitution provides for the trial procedure in paragraphs 18 and 63... Such trial procedures are available to any minister who may stand formally accused (emphasis added) on the floor of an annual conference.
In this case no formal charges were filed against O. Lloyd Hutchison and hence no trial procedures were available. The Church does seek to protect the rights of the minister even so. As further stated in Decision 351:
Equally historic is the method for protecting the rights of ministers who are not under charges, against whom no formal accusations have been brought, and therefore for whom no trial is properly in order. This method has used long-accepted practices and procedures to determine the acceptability of a person for appointment to a parish in the church.
A similar process may be involved in the event evidences of unacceptability are brought to the attention of the Board of Ministry.
Pars. 447 and 448 set forth procedures for dealing with such circumstances with Par. 447.3 previously cited being applied in this case.
Amid the conflicting reports of these events, it would appear that at all times Mr. Hutchison's rights were carefully protected, that his appeals were heard and considered by the various groups within the conference structure to which he made appeal. There appears to be no evidence that due process was not followed by any of these bodies. The voting in the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Cabinet was unanimous in its recommendations concerning involuntary retirement. In two successive sessions of the Annual Conference, Mr. Hutchison was given time for statements and motions. In each instance, the Conference voted overwhelmingly to sustain the recommendation for involuntary retirement. There is abundant evidence that the Bishop, the Cabinet, and all conference agencies went to great lengths to protect Mr. Hutchison's rights.
The Board of Ordained Ministry of the East Ohio Annual Conference acted in accordance with the Discipline in recommending that O. Lloyd Hutchison be given involuntary retirement on June 22, 1981, and in reaffirming that action in June 1982. The petitioner's rights as a full member of the Conference were honored and protected, and the Conference and its agencies followed due process as provided in the Discipline. The Council affirms the ruling by Bishop James Thomas.
Leonard D. Slutz was absent.