Decision Number 337
Request of College of Bishops, North Central Jurisdiction, for a Declaratory Decision Regarding the Application of Paragraph 307 of the Discipline to the Ministerial Classification of Mr. Foster Stone of South Indiana Conference.
Paragraph 307 of the Discipline relates only to ministerial classification and requires only that the classification of ministers in The United Methodist Church shall not be applied in such a manner as to deprive a minister, as he moves into the new church from one of the two merging denominations, of rights and privileges which belonged to the classification which he held in his former denomination. It does not in any way relieve a minister from the fulfillment of the regular obligations and responsibilities of his classification.
Statement of Facts
Mr. Foster Stone was ordained an itinerant elder in Indiana Conference South of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1957, having met the requirements for ordination as interpreted by that conference. He was appointed by the bishop to serve as pastor of the church at Palmyra, Indiana and has continued to serve under appointment at Palmyra since that time.
In 1957 Mr. Stone also became a practicing attorney in Louisville, Kentucky and continues to maintain that practice. Although serving as a part-time pastor, Mr. Stone, as an itinerant ordained elder, did have voting rights in the conference and was permitted to participate in the pension plan. The Ministers Reserve Pension Plan of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church was a plan based upon the accumulated funds paid in by the minister and the church he served and did not obligate the conference on the basis of an annuity rate per year of service.
When the Annual Conferences of the former The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church in Indiana merged to form the South Indiana Conference and the North Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, Mr. Stone was admitted to membership in the South Indiana Conference as an itinerant elder.
The Board of the Ministry of the South Indiana Conference requested Mr. Stone to seek voluntary location, presumably because the appointment which he is serving was not considered to be a full-time appointment. This Mr. Stone has refused to do. The Board then placed him in the supernumerary relationship pending further investigation and has indicated that if he continues to refuse to seek voluntary location it will recommend involuntary location.
Mr. Stone pleads that such an action would be contrary to Paragraph 307 of the Discipline, because it would deprive him of rights or privileges granted to him by the former Evangelical United Brethren Church.
His Annual Conference membership classification and his pension rights are items at issue.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1715 of the 1968 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The pertinent section of Paragraph 307 of the Discipline reads as follows:
"The ordained ministry of The United Methodist Church consists of elders and deacons. Where there is need, qualified laymen may be authorized to exercise certain pastoral functions and shall be known as lay pastors. These designations are not to be applied so as to deprive any person of any right or privilege permanently granted by either The Methodist Church or The Evangelical United Brethren Church."
The question for decision is whether or not the action taken by the Board of the Ministry of the South Indiana Conference in asking Mr. Stone to seek voluntary location or its proposed action to recommend involuntary location if Mr. Stone refuses, is in conflict with Paragraph 307 of the Discipline.
The rights and privileges officially granted to Mr. Stone by the former Evangelical United Brethren Church are those which in that church belonged to an ordained itinerant elder. These rights and privileges were granted to him in 1957 when he was ordained and admitted into membership in the conference.
In The United Methodist Church, these are essentially the same rights and privileges as those accorded to ordained elders elected itinerant members in full connection of an Annual Conference.
When Mr. Stone was received into the South Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, he was received as an ordained itinerant elder in full connection. To have admitted him on any other basis would have been a violation of Paragraph 307, because it would have deprived him of rights and privileges which belonged to the classification and membership which he held in the former Evangelical United Brethren Church.
The classification of ordained itinerant elder in full connection not only involves rights and privileges to which its members, including Mr. Stone, are entitled; it also has obligations and responsibilities which are required of all its members. Mr. Stone is not exempt from these. The fact that in the Indiana Conference South of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church he enjoyed certain de facto privileges, because of his specific annual pastoral appointment, does not convey a de jure privilege which carries over to future years.
Among the obligations and responsibilities of this classification, there is the obligation to "offer himself without reserve to be appointed and to serve as his superiors in office may direct." There is no essential difference between this obligation in The United Methodist Church and that of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church. The obligation is, in fact, stated in quite similar language in each instance.
Paragraph 275 of the 1967 Discipline of The Evangelical United Brethren Church states, "Itinerant ministers are elders of the Evangelical United Brethren Church who have offered themselves without reserve for service . . ."
The wording of Paragraph 331 of the 1968 Discipline of The United Methodist Church, speaking of members in full connection, says, "He offers himself without reserve to be appointed and to serve as his superiors in office direct . . ."
Thus the obligation involved in "offering himself without reserve for service" has been continuously upon Mr. Stone since he took his vows of ordination in The Evangelical United Brethren Church. As a member in full connection in The United Methodist Church, they are still upon him. Paragraph 307 of the Discipline was not intended to, nor does it, in any way set aside such obligations.
If Mr. Stone is to continue to claim the rights and privileges of his present classification, including voting and pension rights, he must also be willing to fulfill the obligations and responsibilities of that classification. Among these is clearly the obligation to accept appointment to full-time work (without reserve) anywhere in the conference on the same basis that any other ordained itinerant elder in full connection is required to do. No permanent rights to the contrary have ever been granted to him.
If Mr. Stone seeks a full-time appointment, the conference is obligated to provide him with such an appointment. If he does not seek such an appointment, or if he refuses to accept such an appointment when offered, then, of course, he forfeits his rights as a member in full connection. In such circumstances, the Board of the Ministry would be within its authority to recommend involuntary location if Mr. Stone did not ask for voluntary location. Mr. Stone was granted pension rights in the Ministers Reserve Pension Plan of The Evangelical United Brethren Church and funds accumulated under the plan until it was terminated on December 31, 1968, are vested in his name. If South Indiana Conference should at some time develop a program to compensate ministers of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church for years of service in that church on an annual annuity per year of service basis, then Mr. Stone would share in that compensation for his years of service prior to 1969 just as all other ministers from that church would do.
If Mr. Stone accepts voluntary location and continues to serve the Palmyra Church, or some other church which is less than a full-time assignment, he may participate in the United Methodist Pension program only if this privilege is voted by a three-fourths vote of his Annual Conference. Paragraph 1379.4 (a) of the 1968 Discipline reads:
"Full-time service of a ministerial member or lay pastor shall be required as a normal condition for pension credit; provided, however, that such credit may be granted for part-time service by a three-fourths vote of those present and voting in the Annual Conference, on recommendation of the Conference Board of Pensions."
The requirements of Paragraph 307 of the Discipline relate only to ministerial classifications and were fulfilled for Mr. Stone when he was accepted into the South Indiana Conference as an ordained itinerant elder in full connection. He can retain the rights and privileges of this classification, including future pension rights, only provided he is willing to fulfill the obligations and responsibilities required of all members in such relationship.