Decision Number 251


October 26, 1967

Request of the Council on World Service and Finance for Clarification of Decision No. 236


Clarification of our Decision No. 236.

Statement of Facts

The Council on World Service and Finance at its meeting on November 10, 1966, requested the Judicial Council to "clarify its Decision No. 236 in respect to the effect of such decision upon pension benefits, if any, of all (a) former Central Conference bishops who have reached retirement age and whose last terms of office for limited terms of years have expired, and (b) the wives or widows and dependent children of such former bishops." A brief in support of the request and dated September 20, 1967, was submitted by Clarkson W. Loucks on behalf of the Council on World Service and Finance which raises additional and possibly related questions.


The Judicial Council assumes jurisdiction under Paragraph 914.

Analysis and Rationale

There is no evidence that the General Conference has prescribed one rule for the retirement of bishops assigned to or elected by Jurisdictional Conferences and another for the retirement of bishops elected by the Central Conferences. It has permitted the Central Conferences to determine the length of tenure of their own bishops and, within limits, the age at which retirement must occur.

Decision No. 68 concerning which question was raised applies only to members of Annual Conferences in the United States who are elected to the episcopacy, since the Ministers' Reserve Pension Fund of The Methodist Church is restricted to the participation of such persons. All persons elected by the Jurisdictional Conferences of the United States are elected to life terms.

We reaffirm in all respects our Decision No. 236. We believe the difficulties which this Decision seems to pose to the petitioner arise simply from a failure to understand and apply consistently the distinction between an episcopal election for a term of years and an election for life. A Central Conference may elect for a term of years or for life, but it may not choose to elect a bishop for an indeterminate term. This applies to the argument in the brief urging us to rule that a term bishop would continue in office beyond the number of years specified if his Central Conference failed to meet or, if meeting, failed to elect and consecrate a bishop for a new term. Nothing in Decisions Nos. 61, 80, 199 or 236, or in the applicable legislation was intended to suggest that a term of years could have engrafted on it any supplemental qualification which would in effect make it an indeterminate term. References therein to term bishops serving until the consecration of a successor or until the adjournment of a regular session of a Central Conference were obiter dicta and were included in those decisions only because they related to the usual course of events.

We believe that questions involved in the support and pension rights are not before us and we decline to deal with such hypothetically.


It is the decision that in all cases when the number of years for which a person has been elected to the episcopacy have elapsed, his term shall thereupon terminate.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

©2023 United Methodist Communications. All Rights Reserved