Decision Number 658


October 24, 1991

Eligibility of Part-Time Local Pastors and Student Local Pastors for Election as Lay Delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences.


Part-time local pastors and student local pastors are not eligible for election as lay delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference.

Statement of Facts

During the 1991 session, the West Virginia Conference voted to petition the Judicial Council "for a Declaratory Decision on the eligibility of Part Time and Student Local Pastors to be elected as Lay Delegates from an Annual Conference to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences of The United Methodist Church."


The Judicial Council has Jurisdiction under ¶ 2615 of the 1988 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

It appears that the 1988 Discipline is silent on this question, neither authorizing nor forbidding the election of part-time or student local pastors as lay delegates to General or Jurisdictional Conference. Neither do we find any Judicial Council decisions which deal specifically with the issue, though No. 112 discusses a related question and may be instructive.

In 1955, the Judicial Council was asked to determine whether a charge could elect an approved supply pastor as a lay member of the Annual Conference for that charge. (Approved supply pastor was at the time the designation for the category now called local pastor.) The Judicial Council ruled that an approved supply pastor did not qualify as a lay person for that purpose: "An approvedsupply pastor represents his charge as a pastor in every respect expect the right to vote. Therefore he cannot represent the charge in the dual capacity of pastor and lay member at the same time."

In the Analysis of Decision No. 112, the Judicial Council pointed out that, though technically a lay person, the approved supply (local) pastor functions as clergy.

He is a Pastor in charge and is amenable to the Annual Conference... He receives his salary from the church, not as a layman but as Pastor... He represents his charge in the Annual Conference, speaks on the floor of the conference and is required to attend the sessions not as a layman but as a Pastor... It is conclusive that a person serving as Pastor of a charge and being amenable to the Annual Conference in all respects as a traveling preacher ... is not such a "Lay Member" as is contemplated by Par. 21 of the Constitution. (Now Par. 35) This principle was affirmed in Decision No. 7 of the Interim Judicial Council. Decision No. 112 was cited as support for No. 7.

A number of changes have occurred since Decision No. 112 was made. Full-time local pastors have been granted voting rights in the Annual Conference and are counted as clergy in equalization formulas. In 1988, the General Conference acted to give Annual Conferences authority to grant voting privileges to part-time and student local pastors as clergy; but the action was declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Council in Decision No. 612 for reasons unrelated to the present issue.

The guiding principle in Decision No. 112 is that local pastors shall not be regarded as laity in Annual Conference relationships. This principle still shapes the understanding of the church. No action has been taken by the General Conference to reverse that view and grant standing to local pastors as lay persons in the Annual Conference. Rather, any changes made have nudged local pastors more firmly into the clergy category.

Given that history and common understanding, there is every evidence that part-time and student local pastors are not lay members as contemplated by ¶ 12 (General Conference membership), ¶ 23 (Jurisdictional Conference membership) or 35 (Annual Conference membership), and may not be elected to any of those conferences as lay delegates.


Part-time and student local pastors are not eligible for election as lay delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

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