Feb. 22, 2005
A UMNS Report
By Neill Caldwell*
United Methodist Church’s highest court will hear 12 cases during its
spring meeting, with topics as diverse as clergy benefits, handicapped
accessibility in local churches and the Girl Scouts.
Council will meet April 27-29 at the Sheraton National Hotel in
Arlington, Va., just before the United Methodist Council of Bishops
meets in the same location. The chancellors from the denomination’s
annual conferences will also hold their biannual United Methodist Legal
Forum, and Judicial Council members and bishops have been invited to
The nine-member court will hear again an item related
to a new clergy plan developed by the United Methodist Board of Pension
and Health Benefits. The item is a request from the 2004 General
Conference for a decision on the constitutionality of Petition 40325 as
adopted, “in light of the broad new powers that it appears to grant to
the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.”
Council heard oral arguments in October before deferring a decision
until the spring, and it will hear a second round of oral arguments in
this case when it meets in Arlington.
The 2004 General Conference,
the denomination’s top legislative assembly, approved the board’s
proposal for a new Clergy Retirement Security Program that would go into
effect Jan. 1, 2007. The plan differs from the current Ministerial
Pension Plan in that it has a core benefit of two components—a defined
benefit and a defined contribution. The Ministerial Pension Plan is
primarily a defined contribution plan, with contributions placed into a
separate account for each participant.
Questions were raised on
the floor of General Conference as to whether the new pension plan takes
away “certain powers and authorities which have specifically been
retained by the General Conference in the past.” Under the plan, the
board would have the ability to change the program between sessions of
General Conference, and it could determine who is eligible to
Four items on the spring docket come from the
California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference. The conference is
requesting a decision on the constitutionality of Paragraph 359.3c(2) of
the 2000 Book of Discipline concerning administrative location; a
decision on the meaning, application and effect of Paragraph 633
concerning the responsibilities of the conference’s administrative
review committee; a decision on the meaning, application and effect of
Paragraphs 612 and 623 concerning minimum base compensation and base
compensation supplements for clergy support; and a review of a bishop’s
decision of law concerning the legality of incapacity leave of a clergy
The council will examine two items from the Illinois
Great Rivers Annual Conference. The first deals with Paragraphs 31 and
605.6 of the 2000 Book of Discipline with respect to the phrase
“Conference Relations of Clergy” and “the authority of an annual
conference clergy session to create programs, study teams and task
forces on matters pertaining to the maintenance, enhancement and support
of the conference relations of clergy.” The second is a request for a
decision on the legality under the 2000 Book of Discipline of a resolution expressing appreciation of the Girl Scouts of America.
Other docket items:
- A request from the Kansas East Conference for a decision on the meaning, application and effect of the 2000 Book of Discipline concerning a requirement that full-time clergy contribute to the cost of health insurance.
- A request from the Northern Illinois Conference for a decision on how Paragraphs 715 and 2532.6 of the 2000 Book of Discipline affect disabled-accessibility in local church and district office facilities.
- A review of a bishop’s decision of law regarding modifying the structure of the Rocky Mountain Conference.
request from the Alaska Missionary Conference for a decision on the
constitutionality of 2004 General Conference Calendar Item 1017, which
deals with guidelines for lay membership of annual conferences.
appeal of the Rev. Ngoy Daniel Mulunda Nyanga on actions taken by the
West Congo Conference and the Central Conference of Africa. Mulunda
appealed actions taken by the conference regarding his ministerial
credentials; his appeal initially went to the committee on appeals of
the Central Congo Central Conference. Oral arguments have been requested
in this case.
The Judicial Council meets twice a year. Last October in Philadelphia, the council ruled on 16 docket items.
*Caldwell is a freelance writer based in High Point, NC.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470) or firstname.lastname@example.org.