Discipline ¶354

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  ¶ 354. Leave of Absence-1. This relationship is granted to clergy who are probationary, associate, and full members, who because of sufficient reason are unable to or who choose temporarily to cease to perform their ministerial duties. This relationship may be initiated by clergypersons as a voluntary leave of absence or by district superintendents as an involuntary leave of absence through the board of ordained ministry and granted or renewed by the vote of the clergy session of members in full connection with the annual conference upon the board’s recommendation. Between sessions of the annual conference, leave of absence may be granted or terminated, with the approval of the bishop and district superintendents, by the executive committee of the board of ordained ministry.37  This interim action shall be subject to the approval of the clergy session of members in full connection with the annual conference at its next session.38  This leave shall be counted as a part of the six-year limit for probationary members (¶ 327), unless the six-year limit is extended by the clergy session of members in full connection with the annual conference upon the recommendation of the board of ordained ministry. Should there be complaints or charges pending at the time of a request for leave of absence, they should be placed in the file of the clergyperson.
All subsequent actions concerning such entries should be duly noted and placed in the file. Clergypersons on leaves of absence shall have no claim on the conference funds. However, in exceptional circumstances, on the recommendation of the district superintendents, salary and/or other benefits may be granted to an elder or associate member by vote of the clergy session of members in full connection with the annual conference. In an interim between sessions of the annual conference, by vote of the bishop, cabinet, and executive committee of the board of ordained ministry, salary and/or benefits may be granted. Clergypersons on leaves of absence shall not be eligible for membership on annual, jurisdictional, central, or general conference agencies and may not be elected or serve as delegates to general or jurisdictional conferences.
    a) Voluntary Leave of Absence-The written request for this relationship should be made at least ninety days prior to the annual conference session, giving specific reasons for the request.39 Representatives of the annual conference board of ordained ministry may interview the clergy member to determine sufficient cause.40  This relationship shall be approved annually upon written request of the clergy member and shall not be granted for more than five years in succession, except by a two-thirds vote of the clergy members in full connection.41
b) Involuntary Leave of Absence-The district superintendents may request an involuntary leave of absence without the consent of the probationary, associate, or full member, at least ninety days prior to the annual conference session. They shall give to the probationary, associate, or full member and the board of ordained ministry in writing specific reasons for the request. The fair process for administrative hearings as set forth in ¶ 362.3 shall be followed in any involuntary leave of absence procedure. The clergyperson has the right to a hearing before the bishop, district superintendents,42  and executive committee of the board of ordained ministry prior to being placed on involuntary leave of absence. Written notice of the board’s action should be sent to the respondent and the administrative review committee’s chairperson. Involuntary leaves of absence shall be approved by two-thirds vote of the clergy session of members in full connection with the annual conference.43  By two-thirds vote of the clergy session of members in full connection with the annual conference, upon recommendation of the bishop, district superintendents, and board of ordained ministry, the ninety-day notice requirement may be waived. This relation shall be approved annually upon written request of the district superintendents and shall not be approved for more than three years in succession.
  The administrative review committee (¶ 635) shall ensure that the disciplinary procedures for involuntary leave of absence were properly followed. The entire process leading to the recommendation for involuntary leave of absence shall be reviewed by the administrative review committee, and it shall report its findings to the clergy session of members in full connection with the annual conference.
2. After consultation and with the written consent of the pastor in charge, and with the approval of the district superintendent and the staff-parish relations committee of a local church, clergy members shall designate a charge conference within the bounds of the annual conference in which they shall hold membership and to which they shall submit an annual report. The exercise of their ministry shall be limited to the charge conference in which their membership is held and with the written permission of the pastor in charge unless special permission is granted by the bishop of the conference where membership is held. They shall report all marriages performed, baptisms administered, funerals conducted and other ministerial activities to the charge conference, pastor in charge, and board of ordained ministry, and they shall be held amenable to the annual conference for their conduct and the continuation of their ordination rights. In case of failure to report to the board of ordained ministry, the clergy session of the annual conference may locate or terminate the clergy member without further process.
3. Probationary, associate, or full members on voluntary leave of absence may, with the permission of the charge conference in which membership is held, and with the approval of the United Methodist Endorsing Agency, continue to hold an existing reserve commission as an armed forces chaplain, but may not voluntarily serve on extended active duty.
4. When an end to the leave of absence is requested by the probationary, associate, or full member in the case of a voluntary leave of absence, and by the district superintendents in the case of an involuntary leave of absence, it shall be by written request at least six months prior to the session of annual conference.44  The board of ordained ministry shall review the circumstances surrounding the granting of the relationship for the purpose of determining whether those circumstances have been alleviated or resolved. When the board has determined that the circumstances of the voluntary leave have not been alleviated or resolved and the request is denied, the board must promptly begin a process to place the clergyperson on involuntary leave of absence, administrative location, involuntary incapacity leave, or involuntary retirement45  or such other action as is deemed appropriate.
5. When probationary, associate, or full members on voluntary leave of absence do not request an extension of the leave of absence annually during the five-year period or do not indicate willingness to return to the itinerant ministry at the end of the five-year period following documented efforts to make contact with the clergyperson, the board of ordained ministry may recommend to the clergy session of members in full connection with the annual conference that the clergyperson be located or the cabinet may bring a complaint seeking termination. If the district superintendents do not intend to extend the involuntary leave of absence, they shall notify both the board of ordained ministry and the clergyperson at least six months prior to the session of the annual conference to permit clergypersons to exercise their options. The clergyperson shall have the right to request a change to a voluntary leave of absence or termination of leave of absence. Any consecutive combination of voluntary and involuntary leaves of absence shall be counted in the total of five years for purposes of ¶¶ 354, 362.46  This process shall be reviewed by the Administrative Review committee pursuant to ¶635.

37. See Judicial Council Decision 689.
38. See Judicial Council Decision 689.
39. See Judicial Council Decision 689.
40. See Judicial Council Decision 782.
41. See Judicial Council Decisions 581, 782.
42. See Judicial Council Decisions 917, 950.
43. See Judicial Council Decision 782.
44. See Judicial Council Decision 721.
45. See Judicial Council Decision 689.
46. See Judicial Council Decisions 450, 459, 473, 508, 524, 530.