Decision Number 118
Request of the Ohio Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Question "Can the Church Treasurer Withhold Pension Fund Assessments and Send Them in Directly to the Pension Office or Must the Ministers Send the Money in Themselves?"
Church Treasurers cannot withhold the 3% Pension Fund Assessments on salaries of ministers and remit them to the Pension Board. Such assessments must be sent in by the ministers themselves. If the ministers should agree to such withholding and authorize the Church Treasurer to send same to the Fund in quarterly installments that would constitute compliance with Par. 1646 of the Discipline.
Statement of Facts
At the session of the Ohio Annual Conference held at Lakeside, Ohio, June 7-2, 1955, the Reserve Pension Committee Report recommended that the Conference adopt a salary withholding plan for the 3% assessment (Reserve Pension Plan).
By this method of withholding assessments from ministers' salaries by local church Treasurers who would send them in directly to the Pension Office, it was thought to prevent arrearages now so prevalent among ministers of the Conference. A motion was passed by the Conference asking the Judicial Council for a Declaratory Decision interpreting Paragraph 1646, Section 1 of the 1952 Discipline as to its bearing on the question of local church Treasurers withholding such assessments from ministers' salaries and sending them to the pension office.
Paragraph 914 of the 1952 Discipline states:
"When the General Conference shall have passed any act or legislation that appears to be subject to more than one interpretation, or when any Paragraph or Paragraphs of the Discipline seem to be of doubtful meaning or application, the Judicial Council, on petitions as hereinafter provided, shall have jurisdiction to make a ruling in the nature of a Declaratory Decision as to the meaning, application and effect of such act, legislation or Paragraph or Paragraphs of the Discipline. . . ."
"The following bodies in The Methodist Church are hereby authorized to make such petitions to the Judicial Council for a Declaratory Decision.... (8) Any Annual Conferences, on matters relating to Annual Conferences or the work therein."
The above conditions having been met by the Ohio Annual Conference, the Judicial Council is therefore authorized to take jurisdiction in the matter presented by said Conference.
Analysis and Rationale
The General Conference has provided the following procedure for contributions of lay employees to the "Lay Employees Pension Fund": Paragraph1658 (3b) of the 1952 Discipline relating to "Contributions of lay employees" to the Lay Employees Pension Fund states the following: "Each participating employer shall deduct from the compensation of its lay employees at the time such compensation is paid and the accommodations set forth in Sec. 3a are furnished, a sum equivalent to not less than three per cent (3%) of the said amount used in the computation set forth in Sec. 3a ... which sum shall be forwarded to the Illinois Corporation. . . ."
Paragraph 1659 (4a) re: lay employees of an effective Bishop, directs the Bishop to "deduct the required contributions from the compensation of such participating lay employees and forward such amounts concurrently with the required employer's contributions to the Fund. . . ."
The General Conference, however, has seen fit to adopt a different plan regarding the collection of contributions from ministers for the "Ministers Reserve Pension Fund."
Paragraph 1646 (1) of the 1952 Discipline is clear and explicit in its statement that "an annual contribution, the equivalent of 3% of the average salary of the Conference (as defined in Paragraph 1618, Sec. 6 of the Pension Code) shall be paid directly to the Fund by each qualified member thereof in quarterly installments, etc."
In case the individual contributors should agree that such contributions might be withheld by the church Treasurer and sent in to the Fund quarterly this would be a compliance with Par. 1646 (1). In the absence of such agreement it appears that the Annual Conference does not have the power to enforce a withholding of such contributions.
In view of Paragraph 1646 (1) of the 1952 Discipline, in the absence of agreement therefor by the ministers involved, it is the Decision of the Judicial Council that church Treasurers may not withhold the 3% reserve Pension Fund contributions from the salaries of ministers. Such contributions must be sent in by the minister themselves or by their authorized agent.
NOTE: John Taylor Alton did not vote on the Decision in this case.