Decision Number 717
Eligibility for Pension and Other Benefits for Clergy Who Retire Early or Who Are Classified as Honorable Location-Retired.
Each Annual Conference has authority to determine health benefits for its clergy and the requirements for eligibility. A person granted the status of honorable location-retired may qualify for pension under the conditions of Par. 1606.14.
Statement of Facts
The Southern New Jersey Conference petitioned the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision as to the meaning and application of Pars. 452.2 and 453.1(c).
Two questions were asked: (1) At what age are persons who are granted the retired relationship under Par. 452.2 eligible to receive benefits provided by the Annual Conference to retired clergy members; and (2) do the rights of retired clergy members to pension and other benefits as provided in Par. 452.2 extend to clergy members whose status is defined in Par. 453.1(c) as honorable location-retired?
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2616 of the 1992 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
(1) The Discipline has little to say about non-pension clergy benefits. Determination of such benefits is made by each Annual Conference. Freedom of the Annual Conference to make that determination is reflected in the permissive language of Par. 452.2. Clergy who have retired with twenty years of service and have met the requirements for pension eligibility, may request the Annual Conference to place them in the retired relation with the privilege of receiving their pensions "and such other benefits as the Annual Conference may provide, payment to begin the first of any month after the ordained minister attains age sixty-two."
The Discipline does not require that such benefits as health care insurance be provided before or after age 62, nor does it prohibit them before or after age 62. Each Annual Conference determines its own qualifications for participation in a health care insurance program or other non-pension benefits for its clergy members.
(2) Par. 453.1(c) provides that "ordained ministers on honorable location may request the Annual Conference to grant them the status of honorable location-retired." Interpretation of this provision would be simplified if it had clearly specified the age and other conditions under which such status could be granted. Lacking that clarity, it must be read in light of Par. 452, which sets a minimum of 20 years of service or age 62 for voluntary retirement. Pension eligibility is determined by Par. 1606.14(a) and (b). "A former clergy member of an Annual Conference whose membership was terminated on or after January 1, 1973 and prior to January 1, 1982, after the completion of ten or more years of service with pension credit in an Annual Conference or Conferences, shall retain the right to receive a pension beginning the first day of any month following the date the former minister attains age sixty-two, based on the years of service approved for pension credit...." Par. 1606.14(a)
Par. 1606.14(b) makes provision for those whose membership was terminated on or after January 1, 1982.
If a person does not qualify under the provisions of Par. 1606.14, the Annual Conference could elect to make a special pension grant under Par. 1613.
Each Annual Conference has authority to determine health benefits for its clergy and the requirements for eligibility. A person granted the status of honorable location-retired may qualify for pension under the provisions of Par. 1606.14.