Decision Number 602


October 28, 1988

Authority of General Conference to Define Ministerial Membership in An Annual Conference.


The Constitution gives to the General Conference the authority to define ministerial membership in an Annual Conference. The legislation granting part-time local and student pastors the right to vote in the Annual Conference under certain conditions is constitutional.

Statement of Facts

During the 1988 session, the General Conference adopted Calendar Item 1249, adding the following to  701:
Under special conditions, and for missional reasons, an Annual Conference may, by a 2/3 vote of its members present, and (sic) allow local and student part-time pastors under appointment to a pastoral charge the right to vote on all matters except constitutional amendments, election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional or Central Conferences and matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of ministers.

Later in that same session, a motion was passed asking that the Judicial Council rule on constitutionality of the legislation.


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under  2607 of the 1984 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

The definition of ministerial membership in an Annual Conference has changed from time to time in The United Methodist Church and its constituent bodies.

Prior to 1968, such membership was defined by Constitution. Par. 81 of the Evangelical United Brethren Constitution provided that the "membership of the annual conference shall consist of all its itinerant ministers, its lay members elected as provided . . ." (1963 Discipline) Par. 21 of the Constitution of The Methodist Church said, "the Annual Conference shall be composed of all the traveling preachers in full connection with it, together with a lay member elected by each pastoral charge." (1964 Discipline)

In 1968, the united church adopted a Constitution which no longer specified that ministerial members of the Annual Conference must be itinerant ministers or traveling preachers in full connection. Instead, that determination was left to the General Conference: "The Annual Conference shall be composed of ministerialmembers as defined by the General Conference, together with a lay member elected by each charge." ( 36, 1968 Discipline,  35, 1984 Discipline.)

In 1968, the General Conference defined ministerial members to include "ministers in full connection, probationary members, and associate members." ( 660) In 1980, this definition was expanded to include ". . . local pastors under full-time appointment to a local church." ( 701)

When local pastors were added to the definition in 1980, the General Conference asked the Judicial Council for a ruling as to constitutionality. In response, in Decision 477, the Judicial Council declared the legislation constitutional: "Par. 36 of the Constitution grants authority to the GeneralConference to define the ministerial members of the Annual Conference." That decision answered the same question asked in the present case. The constitutional wording which bears on it is unchanged, though the paragraph is now numbered 35.

The present case differs slightly in that the new legislation enables part-time and student local pastors to vote only if authorized by the Annual Conference. This provision does not introduce any constitutional problems. By Constitution, the General Conference defines ministerial membership; the Annual Conference confers that membership on those judged to have met the requirements. Calendar Item 1249 leaves this arrangement intact.

The legislation, which appears in the 1988 Discipline as  701.1(e), is constitutional.


Par. 35 of the Constitution gives authority to the General Conference to define ministerial membership in an Annual Conference. The 1988 legislation which includes part-time and student local pastors in that definition under certain conditions is constitutional.

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