Decision Number 444
Request from the Louisville Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision as to the Application of Discipline Par. 413.1 to Fully Ordained, Credentialed Ministers from Other Churches, and Whether Par. 426.2 Provides for Recognition of Elders Orders or their Equivalent Counterpart in Other Christian Churches Simultaneous with Reception of Such Candidates into Probationary or Associate Membership in the Annual Conference.
An Annual Conference has the final authority to recognize or not recognize the ordination of ordained ministers from other Christian denominations and receive them into probationary membership or associate membership in the conference. Ordained ministers from other Christian denominations who are received do not need to be re-ordained.
Statement of Facts
On May 25, 1978, the Louisville Annual Conference petitioned the Judicial Council to issue a declaratory decision on whether or not Par. 413.1 of the Discipline applies to fully ordained, properly credentialed ministers from other Christian churches, who desire to come into the ministry of the United Methodist Church. The further question was as to whether Par. 426.2 provides for the recognition of elders' orders or their equivalent counterpart in the other Christian churches, so that persons enjoying such status may be granted elders' orders in the United Methodist Church and simultaneously received into probationary membership or associate membership.
The material before the Judicial Council does not indicate whether there is any specific case in mind.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2515.2(i) of the 1976 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The denomination and its predecessor churches have been clear with reference to ordination. Confusion arises unless one distinguishes between ordination as an order and membership in an Annual Conference. Though they may be concurrently held, they are distinct in function. The ordination of a person into the clergy is a universal act, recognizing one's preparation and commitment to the whole body of Christ as well as to a particular denomination. Conference membership, on the other hand, represents specific obligations to a particular denomination with special credentials and relationships. Though the normal procedure is to fulfill the requirements for ordination, then become a member of the Annual Conference, there are instances in our United Methodist history where membership preceded ordination and where ordination was not always followed by membership in an Annual Conference. Annual Conferences vote separately on each of the matters, so that a candidate could qualify for one, but not the other.
Par. 426.2 states:
"Ordained ministers from other Christian denominations who can meet the educational and other standards required of United Methodist ordained ministers may apply through the Board of Ordained Ministry to the Annual Conference for recognition of their orders. On recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Annual Conference, by vote of the ministerial members in full connection, may recognize their ordination and receive them into probationary membership or associate membership in the conference. In every case, examination shall be made of the ordained minister's understanding of United Methodist history, doctrine and polity."
This paragraph clearly provides the method whereby ordained ministers from other Christian denominations may apply through the Board of Ordained Ministry to the Annual Conference for admission, with the final authority resting with the Annual Conference (Decision No. 316).
This process is very clearly outlined in a decision of Bishop Holt which was sustained by the Judicial Council in Decision No. 16.
Bishop Holt said:
"The law gives full protection to the Conference and the ministerial connection by investing it with power through its Committee on Ministerial Qualifications to get all the facts of the applicant, with the power to reject as well as accept the Committee's Report. . . . "
The legislation in the Discipline is quite clear and does not require ordination in the event that an applicant from another Christian denomination applies and that applicant's ordination is recognized.
Ministers coming from other Christian churches, provided they present suitable credentials of good standing through the Board of Ordained Ministry and fulfill the requirements of Par. 426 of the Discipline may have their ordination recognized and be received into probationary or associate membership of an Annual Conference. In such an event, ordination by The United Methodist Church is not necessary.