UK Supreme Court rules that Methodist Ministers are not employees

by Richard on May 17, 2013

It’s been a long story, but all’s well that ends well. On Wednesday the Supreme Court delivered it’s judgement that Methodist ministers are not not employees and do not have recourse to employment tribunals. Inevitably, the judgement is not light bedtime reading, but I was impressed by the obvious care that the judges had taken to understand the workings of Methodism and to judge the case on the basis of our church’s culture and practice. Here’s a flavour:

Standing order 700(1) provides that “[m]inisters are ordained to a life-long presbyteral ministry of word, sacrament and pastoral responsibility in the Church of God which they fulfil in various capacities and to a varying extent throughout their lives.” It is clear that the life-long character of the ministry is more than just an aspiration. A minister can cease to be in full connexion only in limited circumstances, none of which is wholly dependent on his or her wishes. Under standing order 760, he or she may send a notice of resignation to the President of the Conference, but it is up to the President, advised by a special committee, to decide whether to accept it. Otherwise, a minister may cease to be in full connexion if a disciplinary charge is brought and a Disciplinary Committee exercises its power under standing order 1134 to decide that he or she shall “cease to be a minister… in full connexion.” It should be noted that the disciplinary scheme is the same for ministers and lay members, so far as the distinction is
meaningful in a church in which the ministry is not a distinct order or class. Standing order 1100(3)(ii) provides that “there should be no difference in principle between ordained and lay people in the way in which complaints against them are dealt with.”

For as long as a minister remains in full connexion he or she must be stationed, save in two cases. The first is that one of the exceptions in standing order 774 applies, i.e. the minister receives a discretionary exemption from the
Ministerial Session of the Conference, or is required to be without appointment by the Stationing Committee on the ground that no appointment can be found. The second is that they are permitted by the Ministerial Session of the Conference to become “supernumeraries” (i.e. retire) under standing order 790 on account of their age, length of service or ill-health or on compassionate grounds. Retirement is, however, a relative term. Even supernumerary ministers are required under standing order 792 to continue to exercise their ministry “as he or she is able”. All
ministers in full connexion who are not permitted to be without appointment under one of these provisions, are defined by section 1 of the Deed of Union as being “in the active work.”

19. Section 80 of the standing orders provides for the “support and maintenance” of ministers. Under standing order 801, all ministers in active work and all stationed probationers are entitled to a stipend throughout their ministry,
including periods of unlimited duration when they may be unable to perform their duties on account of illness or injury. In addition, they are entitled under standing order 803 to a manse to serve as a home and as a base for their ministry. Neither the stipend nor the manse are regarded by the Methodist Church as the consideration for the services of its ministers. They regard them as a method of providing the material support to the minister without which he or she could not serve God. In the Church’s view, the sale of a minister’s services in a labour market would be objectionable, as being incompatible with the spiritual character of their ministry.

hollowayrev hosts a very helpful analysis of the decision by David Wood and I commend it to you if you want to understand the implications of the verdict.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }


Mark Byron 05.18.13 at 4:49 am

Interesting case; it has loose parallels in the Tabor case in the US, where broad deference was given to a church’s ability to classify folks as pastors exempt from labor law.

I also like the clear lay-friendly writing of the case; it seemed more readable than US Supreme Court decisions.


Richard 05.18.13 at 1:47 pm

I was surprised how readable the judgement was.

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