Decision Number 380


November 09, 1973

Petition from the North Central Jurisdictional Committee on the Ministry for a Declaratory Decision as to the Constitutionality of Paragraphs 352.7 and 392 as They Relate to Paragraphs 316 and 308.3, and Petition from the Iowa Annual Conference for Declaratory Decision on Whether Paragraphs 332 and 392 Can Be Harmonized.


Paragraph 392 of the 1972 Discipline cannot be harmonized with Paragraphs 332 and 316 and is unconstitutional.

The procedure outlined in Paragraph 352.7 is constitutional but is subject to pertinent limitations imposed by the Discipline.

The itinerant system requires that each effective ministerial member of the Annual Conference is entitled to an appointment and is required to accept an appointment when made.

Statement of Facts

The Board of the Ministry of the North Central Jurisdiction, through its committee on the ministry raised the question of the constitutionality of Paragraphs 352.7 and 392 in the light of Paragraphs 316 and 308.3. Their petition asked the following questions relating to or affecting the work of that committee:

"1. Can a ministerial member in good standing in an Annual Conference be guaranteed an appointment as provided for in Paragraph 316 of the 1972 Discipline and yet while 'appointed for ministry in and to society' as provided in Paragraph 352.7 have that guarantee limited as indicated in Paragraph 392? Can a ministerial member limit or waive his or her guarantee of appointment?

"2. Can a ministerial member in good standing in an Annual Conference be required to 'accept and abide by these appointments' as provided for in Paragraph 308.3 and yet while 'appointed for ministry in and to society' as provided in Paragraph 352.7 not be 'required to accept' appointment as indicated in Paragraph 392? Can The United Methodist Church limit or waive its authority to make and the ministerial member's responsibility to accept appointment?"

The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church requested a declaratory decision on the same basic point posing the following particular questions:

"1. Who shall have sole responsibility for matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of ministers?

"2. What effect does Paragraph 392 have on itinerancy? (itineracy)

"3. What recourse does an appointee under Paragraph 352.7 (cf. Paragraph 392) have to due process of the Board of the Ministry and vote of the Annual Conference?"

A brief was filed on behalf of the Division of the Ordained Ministry of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church.

In addition, a brief on this matter was submitted by the Iowa Annual Conference giving a history of the situation and petition from that conference. In the body of that brief three appendant "questions" are raised as follows:
"A. The involvement of an appointment 'in and to Society' is or is not a matter of Annual Conference Relations?

"B. It is unclear how a return to the 'itineracy' in accord with the 1972 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, Paragraphs 352.1, 352.7, 392 is handled. There is insecurity and uncertainty at this point on the part of Rev. Robert D. Williams.

"C. It is felt the Rev. Mr. Robert D. Williams' brief, pp 3 and 4, lifts some very pertinent questions, germane to this circumstance and other circumstances."

The brief is accompanied by a statement of background by Bishop James S. Thomas.

A brief was filed by the Reverend Robert D. Williams in which he states that his appointment was made, "without my request, over my objections and never with my consent ..."

The statement of background and the brief indicate that the petition arises out of a request on the part of Mr. Robert D. Williams, an ordained elder and full member of the Annual Conference since June 1954. A funding shortage forced a discontinuance of his position at Bidwell-Riverside to which he had received a "Special Appointment" from his bishop for the previous two years. In conversation with the district superintendent, Mr. Williams indicated his unwillingness to accept a parish appointment, but requested that he be appointed to "continue an advocacy-at-large Ministry." Later he met with the bishop and made the specific request "that he be granted a special appointment with no supervision of a district superintendent and no amenability to the bishop and the cabinet."

Shortly before the Annual Conference convened, Mr. Williams requested a special appointment under Paragraph 352.1 to "a minority-female-clergy-coalition" then being formed. The bishop and cabinet determined they could not make such an appointment to "a new and not fully established organization."

When asked if he desired to request any other type of conference relationship, Mr. Williams replied that "he would accept only an appointment under provisions of Paragraph 352.1." The bishop indicated that he could not, in good conscience, meet this request and further indicated that he would present Mr. Williams for an appointment to society as provided for in Paragraph 352.7. This was done during the conference session on June 10, 1973, following the proper two-thirds majority vote of the Iowa Annual Conference.


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1515 of the 1972 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

Both petitions for declaratory judgment arise out of questions of interpretation of Paragraph 352.7 and 392 in conjunction with Paragraphs 316 and 308.3.

Reference should be made also to the last sentence of Paragraph 332 of the 1972 Discipline.

These paragraphs read as follows:

Paragraph 352.7. "At their request, conference members on recommendation by the Cabinet, confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the Annual Conference, may be appointed for ministry in and to society beyond the ministries usually extended through the local church and other institutions of, or directly related to the church; provided that in no such case shall The United Methodist Church incur any financial responsibility."

Paragraph 392. "Appointees to such appointments as referred to in Paragraph 352.7 may neither be required to accept nor are they guaranteed appointment, and may be returned to a regular appointment only by agreement of the bishop and Cabinet."

Paragraph 316. "All ministerial members who are in good standing in an Annual Conference shall receive an annual appointment by the bishop unless they are granted a sabbatical leave or a disability leave or are in the supernumerary or superannuate relation."

Paragraph 308.3. "The itinerant system is the accepted method of The United Methodist Church by which ministers are appointed by the bishop to fields of labor (Pars. 390, 161.2). All ministers shall accept and abide by these appointments."

Paragraph 332. Every effective member in full connection who is in good standing in an Annual Conference shall receive an annual appointment by the bishop."

Other pertinent paragraphs read:

Paragraph 331. "Members in full connection with an Annual Conference by virtue of their election and ordination are bound in special covenant with all the ordained ministers of the Annual Conference. In the keeping of this covenant they perform the ministerial duties and maintain the ministerial standards established by those in the covenant. They offer themselves without reserve to be appointed and to serve as their superiors in office may direct. They live with their fellow ministers in mutual trust and concern and seek with them the sanctification of the fellowship. Only those shall be elected to full membership who are of unquestionable moral character and genuine piety, sound in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and faithful in the discharge of their duties."

Paragraph 352. "A conference member may be appointed by the bishop, after consultations with the district superintendents, to a position in a school, college, university, seminary, hospital, home, or agency or to the military or institutional chaplaincy or similar specialized ministry under the following conditions:

Paragraph 352.1. "The institution or agency desiring to employ a conference member shall first, through its appropriate official, consult the member's bishop and secure approval before completing any agreement to employ the member. If the institution or agency is located in another area, the bishop of that area shall also be consulted."

It is apparent in the Iowa case that Mr. Williams was unwilling to abide by the provision of Paragraph 331 which provides: "They offer themselves withoutreserve to be appointed and to serve as their superiors in office may direct." He refused any appointment to a local parish. He demanded appointment under 352.1 to a particular organization. The bishop and cabinet concluded that they could not appoint him under this paragraph and fully protect his rights and exercise their responsibility for him and the Annual Conference. When offered appointment under 352.7 he also refused, even with written assurances that his concern for his "return to the itinerant ministry" would be treated as if he had been appointed under 352.1. The Cabinet faced a dilemma in that a sabbatical year appointment or location were the only other options. Mr. Williams had received a sabbatical appointment 1970-71 and thereby was ineligible for such in 1973. Apparently to avoid the alternative of involuntary location, the cabinet recommended and the Annual Conference authorized by a two-thirds vote Mr. Williams' appointment under the provisions of Paragraph 352.7 even though they did not have from him a request for such an appointment.

In answer to the specific questions raised by these petitions for decision, it should be noted that the Constitution provides in Paragraph 37, "The Annual Conference is the basic body in the Church and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote ... on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members and on the ordination of ministers..."

Paragraph 352.4. "Conference members under special appointment are amenable to the Annual Conference of which they are members and in so far as possible should maintain close working relationships with and effective participation in the work of their Annual Conference, assuming whatever responsibilities they are qualified and requested to assume."

In Decision No. 325 (1970) the Judicial Council ruled in reference to a plan by the South Carolina Annual Conference moving toward a separate category of the ministry for special appointments to non-United Methodist agencies: "There is no such separation in the Discipline. Special appointments are a part of the itinerant ministry. If there is wisdom in establishing a separate category of special ministries, distinct from the itinerant ministry, the General Conference alone has the authority to make such changes."

The conditions precedent to such special appointments were clearly outlined in Decision No. 329 (1970), as follows:
"1. The institution or agency desiring to employ a conference member shall first consult or request the member's bishop and secure his approval before completing any agreement to employ. (Par. 352.1)

"We believe it is clear that 'approval' as used means bilateral approval; that the bishop recognizes and approves the position or employment as a specialized ministry, and the institution or agency approves and would employ under conditions of an episcopal appointment.

"2. Where approval is tentatively reached, the bishop must consult with and obtain the recommendation of the District Superintendents for the proposed non-United Methodist appointment. (Pars. 352 and 391.6)

"3. The proposed appointment and recommendation of the District Superintendents must be confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the Annual Conference. (Par. 391.6)

"4. Thereupon, the bishop may make the proposed special appointment to the position in a non-United Methodist agency."

It is apparent in the record that the bishop and cabinet used these criteria to determine whether or not Mr. Williams was entitled to an appointment under Paragraph 352.1.

These decisions were made before the passage of Paragraphs 352.7 and 392 which appear to create a separate category of special appointments to non-United Methodist Agencies. This legislation was passed by the 1972 General Conference without debate.

This new provision now becomes a part of a series of provisions in Paragraph 352 which authorizes a bishop to make appointments to positions in institutions and agencies, and to specialized ministries outside of The United Methodist Church.

The provision in question requires that an appointment for ministry in and to society be made only at the request of the conference member.

A reading of the various paragraphs of the Discipline clearly indicates a problem of interpretation if the paragraphs are to be harmonized.

In Decision No. 331 (1970) the Judicial Council cited certain basic rules of statutory interpretation as follows: "A. Acts in relation to the same subject or object should be construed together.

"B. Construction or interpretation should be avoided which would render part of a law inoperative, or purposeless, unless manifestly required.

"C. Judicial construction or interpretation of a law should be prospective for application, but not retroactive."

An examination of Paragraph 352.7 indicates no real conflict within the Discipline. It is merely another recognition, in a long series of such recognitions by the General Conference of the broadening range of ministerial challenge and service both within and without the Church. It prescribes the provisions and limitations to be observed in making such decisions and appointments.

The real conflict is in the language of Paragraph 392. Paragraph 392 gives the right to special appointees under 352.7 to refuse to accept appointment. This is in direct contradiction of Paragraph 308.3. It also deprives them of the right to a regular appointment except by agreement of the bishop and cabinet which is in conflict with Paragraphs 316, 332, and 391.10.

The legislative result of 352.7 read with 392 is the creation of a special appointment which would not be a part of the itinerant ministry as defined by Paragraph 308.3, and which gives a minister a status, insofar as his future responsibilities and rights of appointment are concerned, similar in many respects to voluntary location.

Although this result is not stated in Paragraph 352.7, this type of appointment must be confirmed by the protective device of a two-thirds vote of the Annual Conference. (See Par. 367) On the other hand, under Paragraph 392, a request for re-appointment does not have that protective device. (See Par. 372)

There is no directly stated Constitutional right to an appointment. However, it is implicit in Constitutional provisions such as Restrictive Rule III (Par. 17) which forbids the General Conference to destroy the plan of our itinerant general superintendency and Paragraph 59 which authorizes the bishops to appoint ministers to charges. It becomes explicit as an absolute right clearly set forth in Paragraphs 308.3, 316 and 391.10, disciplinary provisions which have long been a part of the tradition of the predecessor bodies of The United Methodist Church.

In Decision No. 351 the Judicial Council said:

"As a member of an Annual Conference, a person makes himself available for an appointment by the bishop. In return, the Annual Conference guarantees this person an appointment each year so long as he is 'appointable' to any appointment in the conference. 'Appointability' is determined first of all by a process of training, testing, and evaluation by procedures authorized in the Discipline to assure a high standard of ministry."

Paragraph 392 cannot be reconciled with Paragraphs 332, 316, and 391.10. There is no indication that the General Conference desired to repeal Paragraphs 332, 316 or 391.10 or to do anything to damage the integrity of the historic itinerant ministry. Therefore, Paragraph 392 must be declared unconstitutional.

In reference to the specific case of the Rev. Mr. Williams, the record indicates that Mr. Williams did not request an appointment under Paragraph 352.7. He is not entitled to an appointment under Paragraph 352.1 as a matter of right. Nor can he be compelled to take an appointment under Paragraph 352.7. This matter should be referred back to the Iowa Annual Conference and Mr. Williams should be given an opportunity to request an appointment, or a special appointment under proper circumstances, or voluntary location.


In response to both petitions, it is the decision of the Judicial Council that Paragraph 392 of the 1972 Discipline is unconstitutional and therefore is void and of no effect. Paragraph 352.7 is constitutional.

In further response to the Iowa petition it is the decision of the Judicial Council that the matter be referred back to the Iowa Annual Conference to resolve the problem posed in accordance with this decision.

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