By: Neill Caldwell
The United Methodist Church's Judicial Council on Oct. 27 upheld church rules that ensure security of appointment for elders and associate clergy members, striking down legislation passed by the denomination’s lawmaking assembly last spring.
The church’s General Conference, meeting in Tampa, Fla., had approved on May 1 a much-debated piece of legislation that would have deleted language in the church’s Book of Discipline ensuring security of appointment. The legislation also would have added steps for discontinuing elders and associate members from receiving an appointment. A churchwide Study of Ministry Commission had proposed the changes as a way to replace ineffective pastors.
However, the church’s Judicial Council, meeting Oct. 24-27 in Elk Grove Village, Ill., ruled that the General Conference action was in violation of the church’s constitution. Security of appointment “has long been a part of the tradition of The United Methodist Church” and “abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan for itinerant superintendency,” the nine-member court said in Decision 1226.
The ruling restores Book of Discipline Paragraphs 337, 321 and 354 to their 2008 language. It also strikes down a new paragraph, formed by Calendar Item 358, related to a new category of transitional leave for clergy whom the bishop may have chosen not to appoint for purpose of "missional focus" and "flexibility in appointment making." (View this page and choose "Read submitted petition text" and "legislative committee reports" to read the paragraph, which has now been struck down.)
Rev. Kathi Austin Mahle, a retired Minnesota Conference elder, is a member of the Judicial Council.
Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate magazine. Heather Hahn with United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church