Associates in Advocacy now has two sites on the internet. Our primary help site is at http://www.aiateam.org/. There AIA seeks to offer aid to troubled pastors, mainly those who face complaints and whose careers are on the line.

Help is also available to their advocates, their caregivers, Cabinets, and others trying to work in that context.

This site will be a blog. On it we will address issues and events that come up.

We have a point of view about ministry, personnel work, and authority. We intend to take the following very seriously:


Some of our denomination's personnel practices have real merit. Some are deeply flawed. To tell the difference, we go to these criteria to help us know the difference.

We also have a vision of what constitutes healthy leadership and authority. We believe it is in line with Scripture, up-to-date managerial practice, and law.

To our great sadness, some pastors who become part of the hierarchy of the church, particularly the Cabinet, have a vision based on their being in control as "kings of the hill," not accountable to anyone and not responsible to follow the Discipline or our faith and practice. They do not see that THE GOLDEN RULE applies to what they do.

If you are reading this, the chances are you are not that way. We hope what we say and do exemplify our own best vision and will help you fulfill yours. But we cannot just leave arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance to flourish. All of us have the responsibility to minimize those in our system.

We join you in fulfilling our individual vow of expecting to be perfect in love in this life and applying that vow to our corporate life in the United Methodist Church.

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If you have any questions or suggestions, direct them to Rev. Jerry Eckert. His e-mail address is aj_eckert@hotmail.com. His phone number is 941 743 0518. His address is 20487 Albury Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.

Thank you.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

JCD 1314

Appeal of Involuntary Retirement

This case tests a serious problem with the administrative processes that involuntarily remove a pastor from ministry.  There is no real appeal.

Paragraph 16.7 of the constitution requires the General Conference to provide a “judicial system,” that is, a way to handle complaints.  Paragraph 20 says the General Conference shall not do away with the right to trial and appeal.  Paragraph 58 requires that there be a judicial system that guarantees trial and appeal.

In 1980, the General Conference accepted a separation of kinds of complaints to be handled by the judicial system.  It separated out incompetence and ineffectiveness to be handled in an administrative setting rather than a judicial one.  Over the years, that administrative system has become more complex, including most of the rights of Fair Process provided for the judicial process.  But General Conference has never provided a clear appeal process.

In the judicial track, a complaint goes from bishop to committee on investigation to trial to appeal all the way to the Judicial Council.  In the administrative track, a complaint goes from bishop to conference relations committee to Board of Ordained Ministry to administrative review committee to clergy session.  Appeals by question of law to the bishop were ruled in JCD 799 as inappropriate because of separation of powers.  Appeals by means of request for a declaratory decision put the authority to refer the request to the  Council in the hands of the same body that voted to remove the pastor from ministry involuntarily.  The presider of the clergy session is the bishop who with the cabinet recommended the involuntary action.  In addition, voting during the clergy session are members of the Board of Ordained Ministry and Conference Relations Committee that voted the pastor’s involuntary status.  And on top of that, all voting members are under the watchful eye of the bishop who has their career in his/her hands.

Since when is an appeal going forward dependent on the ones whose decision is being appealed?  In the judicial track, an appeal may be made by the respondent and neither the presider of the trial nor the trial court may prevent the appeal from going forward.  Isn’t an appeal inherently required to be free to go before an impartial person or body who has not been involved in the case being appealed?

That is the problem the advocate and respondent in this case face.

When the original action was taken against the pastor in 2014, his advocate sought to appeal directly to the Judicial Council under Paragraph 2715 to avoid having to have the appeal go through the conference and bishop who had already acted on his case.  In JCD 1276, the Council refused jurisdiction saying that the respondent had to approach them by means of a request for declaratory decision.

In 2015’s annual conference, the respondent did that very thing, and unsurprisingly, the conference voted down his appeal.  When the respondent then asked questions of law about that very problem, the bishop demurred, as allowed by JCD 799 (still, unfortunately, in the rules of the Judicial Council).  And the Council in this decision went along with the bishop.

Problem?  Unresolved.

Can the Judicial Council deal with this problem by pointing out the lack of appeal through the administrative process?  Or will the General Conference have to resolve it?

I believe the Judicial Council will have to point out this problem and perhaps go so far as to rule the administrative track unconstitutional because by means of it, the General Conference has violated Paragraph 20 by “doing away” with the right of trial and appeal.  An involuntarily retired, located, or leave of absence pastor is just as removed from preaching, parsonage, income, and health insurance under appointment as a pastor who is removed by trial.

The reason the General Conference is unlikely to act is because any petitions for addition of appeal to the administrative track would be referred by the Committee on Referral of the General Conference to the Ministry Legislative Committee and not to the Judicial Legislative Committee.  The Ministry Legislative Committee is stacked with members of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.  Observation of the nature of the petitions generated by GBHEM since 1980 shows that they have persistently made it easier for bishops to remove pastors administratively.  They also have turned down petitions seeking to add appeal there.  

Perhaps, if the creativity of advocates continues to fail, the creativity of the Council will provide a way.  Something has to change.  The problem is real.

Update:  General Conference in Portland last May passed a route of appeal for administrative cases.  According to new Paragraph 2718.3, an appeal on questions of procedure may be forwarded to the jurisdictional appellate committee for review and, if necessary, appeal can go from there to the Judicial Council.

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