Decision Number 19
Distributions from Endowment Fund for Superannuates, Held by the Missouri Corporation
Under the provisions of Paragraph 1309, Discipline 1940, Ministers who at time of retirement may have been members of an Annual Conference within the territory assigned to the Illinois Corporation, are nevertheless entitled to annuities from the Endowment Fund for superannuates held by the Missouri Corporation, on account of the years of service formerly rendered in an Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, or in an Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in territory assigned to the Missouri Corporation.
However, no claimant has any vested right or equity in such General Endowment Fund nor the income derived therefrom.
Statement of Facts
At the 1943 Session of the California Annual Conference of The Methodist Church, the following question was propounded in writing to Bishop James C. Baker:
REQUEST FOR RULING
Are the following Conference Claimants of the California Annual Conference of The Methodist Church, who have retired since May 10, 1939, entitled, under Paragraph 1309 of the 1940 Discipline, to receive income from the Endowment Fund for the Superannuates held by the Missouri Corporation of the Board of Pensions, on the years of service which they rendered as members of an Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, prior to May 10, 1939? Years of service prior to May 10, 1939
G. C. Black Retired 1942 43 1/22 A. S. Cecil Retired 1940 32 1/22 S. M. Cheek Retired 1940 33 1/22 Jesse Crumpton Retired 1940 34 1/22 W. R. Haselden Retired 1940 31 1/22 John I. Huff Retired 1940 16 1/22 N. F. Johnson Retired 1940 37 William J. Lee Retired 1940 38 C. W. Long Retired 1940 29 1/22 B. H. Mobley Retired 1942 42 1/22 U. G. Murphy Retired 1942 4* A. B. Pendleton Retired 1942 33 1/22 Total 376 1/22
To this question Bishop Baker answered in writing as follows:
RULING OF THE BISHOP
They are entitled to receive the income from the Endowment
Fund for Superannuates held by the Missouri Corporation of the Board of Pensions on exactly the same basis as any other member of an Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, for any and all services rendered prior to May 10, 1939.
The income from the Superannuate Endowment Fund of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was distributed prior to May 10, 1939, to all superannuated preachers on the basis of years of service. Every member of an Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, upon retirement had an equity in the income from this Fund, the amount of which was determined by the number of years of service he had rendered to his Church. The act of Unification on May 10, 1939, did not take away the right of any member of an Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, upon retirement to his share of the income from this fund, based upon the years of service rendered to his Church.
The Uniting Conference decided that the Pension administration of The Methodist Church should be divided between the Illinois Corporation and the Missouri Corporation of the Board of Pensions and assigned the Northeastern, the North Central, the Western, and the Central Jurisdictional Conferences to the Illinois Corporation; and assigned the Southeastern and the South Central Jurisdictional Conferences to the Missouri Corporation.
The Uniting Conference, by adopting Paragraph 1309, terminated the further accrual of service which could be counted as a basis of participation in the income from this Fund by any member of an Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, whose membership in The Methodist Church was assigned to an Annual Conference in the territory of the Illinois Corporation.
Since the General Conference has not ordered otherwise than is provided in Paragraph 1309 of the 1939 Discipline a Claimant of the California Annual Conference who has retired since May 10, 1939, and who rendered service as a member of an Annual Conference in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, prior to May 10, 1939, is entitled to share in the income from the Endowment held by the Missouri Corporation for such years of service.
This decision is now properly before the Judicial Council for review. After careful consideration of the question and answer, and of the briefs and arguments submitted in support of Bishop Baker's ruling and in opposition thereto, we approve such ruling in all respects except as hereinafter set out.
We find ourselves unable to agree with Bishop Baker in his statement that every member of an Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, upon retirement had an equity in the income from this fund. Paragraph 1316 of the 1940 Discipline distinctly says:
Assumption of the obligation of the Ministry required to be made at the time of his admission to membership in an Annual Conference puts upon the Church the inevitable counter-obligation of providing a comfortable support for the Minister during the period of his membership in an Annual Conference and for his widow and dependent children after his death; but such counter-obligation with reference to an annuity (emphasis ours) shall not be construed as contractual unless and until provision shall have been made therefor on an actuarial reserve basis.
No one has any vested right or equity in such General Fund or the income derived therefrom. This was judicially determined recently by the United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, in the case of Rembert Gilman Smith, et al. v. The Board of Pensions of The Methodist Church, Missouri Corporation, 54 Fed. Supp. 224. The Court said:
By brief filed, plaintiff asserts that he and other pensioners of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, who were receiving an income from the trust at the time of union have, not only a fixed, vested, property interest in the fund, as fixed by the original articles of agreement of defendant (the Missouri Corporation), but that such vested rights could not be affected or diverted in whole or part without the consent of plaintiff and other pensioners. We search the pages of the original Articles of Association of the defendant in vain for language from which it could be concluded that a fixed, vested, property interest was created in any pensioner. It is evident that the creators of this trust retained control of this trust at all times. They determined who should be admitted to the pension rolls and could have removed pensioners from the rolls.
In this conclusion, so clearly stated by the Court in this case, we fully concur.
However, this does not affect Bishop Baker's decision as a whole. His interpretation of Paragraph 1309 to the effect that the Uniting Conference in enacting Paragraph 1309 intended thereby to make former members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, who have retired since Union (May 10, 1939) in Annual Conferences outside the territorial limits of the Missouri Corporation, eligible for Annuities out of the income of the General Fund being administered by the Missouri Corporation for all their years of service rendered in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, prior to May 10, 1939, is correct. It is sustained by two well-settled principles of judicial interpretation, viz.: First-The language of the Act itself.
Second-The interpretation given to the Act by the proponents thereof before the enacting body at the time the Act was passed.
It has been argued before the Council that Paragraph 1309 conflicts with other provisions of the regulations governing the Missouri Corporation. Be that as it may, the pertinent clause in Paragraph 1309 is not uncertain. It plainly reads as follows:
Until the General Conference shall order otherwise, the income from the Endowment Fund for Superannuates held by the Missouri Corporation, shall be distributable as annuities on account of service of Conference Claimants formerly rendered in an Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South ...
Up to this point in Paragraph 1309 there are no territorial limitations. It is only in the succeeding clause that a territorial limitation is imposed. For a traveling preacher to be eligible for a pension from this fund for service rendered in an Annual Conference of The Methodist Church, such Annual Conference must be located within the territory of the Missouri Corporation. Thus Bishop Baker's interpretation is sustained by the language of the Paragraph itself.
Furthermore, in interpreting the meaning of an act of a legislative body, it is a well-settled principle of civil law that the proceedings attendant upon the enactment of the act may be considered in determining the true legislative intent sought to be expressed by the act. When that rule is applied in this case, the correct interpretation of Paragraph 1309 becomes obvious. When the Report of the Committee on Superannuate Support embodying Paragraph 1309 was before the Uniting Conference on Friday, May 5, 1939, as reflected on page 247 of the Daily Christian Advocate of Saturday, May 6,1939, Dr. B. W. Meeks requested that Dr. Thomas S. Brock, Chairman of the Committee, make explanation of same. After some discussion between Dr. Meeks and Dr. Brock, the following dialogue took place between them:
B. W. MEEKS: . . . The point I would like to have cleared up is this: Will the members of the Baltimore Annual Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, under the Missouri Corporation, up until the adjournment of this Uniting Conference, receive their annuity rights under the law of the Missouri Corporation as operated up to the present time? In other words, will the rights established by reason of participation in the raising of the six million dollar fund of the Missouri Corporation-of which probably one fourth belongs to the Annual Conferences, be maintained after the adoption of this legislation, or will they be discontinued and the Conference into which they come assume full liability for all the years?
THOMAS S. BROCK: The Missouri Corporation, at the present time, is paying $2.13 per service year to all the annuitants for which that Board is responsible. That money was raised for the benefit of these members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The responsibility of the Annual Conference under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Board will be for the moneys that came from the churches and from the Chartered Fund and the dividends or produce of the Book Concern and such other moneys that may come into these particular Annual Conferences. Then, all those members who were originally members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (emphasis ours), for which this six million dollar fund was raised, will, in addition, receive the $2.13 for service years as long as they continue to be annuitants of The Methodist Church.
B. W. MEEKS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. That is the thing I wanted to get into the record.
With that interpretation before the Uniting Conference, and within a very few minutes after it was given, the Uniting Conference adopted the Report including Paragraph 1309.
The Uniting Conference having enacted this Paragraph with that understanding no other interpretation could or should be given thereto.
Therefore, with the exception noted above, with reference to vested rights and equities, the ruling of Bishop Baker is approved.