Update: June 2015

The Disability Ministries Committee, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Committee, and Association of Ministers with Disabilities have drafted several petitions for the 2016 General Conference that address various concerns, including those addressed in this article. Click here to download and share with your conference.

You or your committee or other group may also submit petitions.

  • To submit by postal mail: the postmark deadline is July 1, 2015. Only one petition can be in each envelope, and each line must be double-spaced. Except for signatures, no hand-written petitions will be accepted. Submit one signed hard copy and a CD or USB memory card to Gary W. Graves, Petitions Secretary.
  • To submit by e-mail: send to petitions@umpublishing.org. The transmission deadline is October 13, 2015.
  • Petitions can be submitted through the GC 2016 website. You can review all requirements for submitting a petition at this site.

The following conferences or their disability committees have submitted these petitions to General Conference: Baltimore-Washington, Cal-Pac, Greater New Jersey (except #1), Mississippi, New York, North Texas, Pacific Northwest (some modified, refused Non-Discrimination in Benefits).

If you, a committee or similar group, or your annual conference submits a petition, please let us know!

Some of the objections raised at various conferences have resulted in the following talking points, summarized by Jackson Day:

  • The intended effect of this petition, if adopted by General Conference, is that the long term disability policies obtained by Annual Conferences and General Agencies for their lay employees will not contain a discriminatory 2 year limit on benefits where the diagnosis is a "mental-nervous" condition.
  • If the response is that it's appropriate to have different benefit levels for clergy and lay employees, emphasize that the distinction is not between clergy and lay, but discrimination against one category of diagnoses — what the insurance companies call mental. Clergy long term disability policies have a similar discrimination, however, we seek a change to the General Board of Pension and Health Plan so that specific discrimination against mental illness diagnoses will be removed. This petition will complement for lay people the changes proposed for clergy, but there will still be differences. The clergy Comprehensive Protection Plan is a self-insured plan, while long term disability policies for lay people are bought off the shelf from insurance companies.
  • Non-discriminatory insurance is unavailable or expensive: while insurance that discriminates against "mental-nervous conditions" is the industry standard and included in 80% or more of today's policies, alternatives are available. When the Baltimore-Washington Conference Joint Committee on Clergy Medical Leave researched the topic, they interviewed the general counsel for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He told the Joint Committee that a decade and a half ago the issue had come up at NAMI and they checked and discovered that their own long term disability insurance was the industry-standard of 2 years only for mental-nervous conditions. They negotiated with the insurance company and got that changed for a small increase in premium. Several years later the issue came up and he checked again and discovered that the NAMI benefits people had lost track of the issue and let the insurance company revert it back to the industry-standard. Now NAMI has non-discriminatory insurance. You can imagine that the premier consumer-oriented mental illness organization in the country would be sensitive about discriminating against people with mental illness! Baltimore-Washington Conference staff queried the United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, which checked with the insurance company and was told a non-discriminatory policy would increase the premium by 25%. That translated to an extra $9000 per year in Annual Conference expenses. This information was presented to the BW Conference Council on Finance and Administration, which must concur or non-concur with any resolution that has financial implications, and received CFA’s support.

First response

The 2012 General Conference enacted changes to the CPP plan that could limit benefits to 2 years for those on medical leave due to "treatable and returnable" mental health issues.

One of the first responses by the Association was to organize a conference call on 19 October 2012 to learn more about the changes and plan strategy. Notes from this call can be read at this link Microsoft Word.

At the Association's meeting in Birmingham AL, July 10-12, 2013, the Association approved a motion endorsing a strategy of working through Annual Conferences to address the issue of mental illness and CPP and to pledge support to Annual Conference Disabilities committees as they prepare submission to their Annual Conferences.

The Association also voted to pursue legislative action at the 2016 General Conference to change these discriminatory provisions.

In preparation for 2016 GC, the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits met in Chapel Hill NC in November 2013. The Association authorized Jackson Day to enter a statement on its behalf at this meeting as follows:

Members of the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD) were most concerned following the 2012 General Conference to discover that changes had been made to the Comprehensive Protection Plan to cap disability payments for eligible clergy to two years in certain situations where the diagnosis is a mental illness diagnosis.   

Disability compensation is a need-based program.  When a disability creates a situation in which clergy are unable to work, the need exists, regardless of diagnosis.  The purpose of disability compensation is to provide a life-line while the disability persists.  It certainly seems to us that tying the termination of disability payments to a specific period of time such as two years creates a situation in which the disability compensation stops while the need itself persists.  Such a situation seems both cruel and unfair.

We recognize that disabilities that prevent clergy from working can have multiple effects, notably upon the appointment process, and therefore various perspectives need to be represented in resolving this issue.  Therefore at its meeting in July, the UMAMD approved a deliberate process based on a draft resolution that members of the disability community in each Annual Conference can bring before their Annual Conference for consideration.  These resolutions, when adopted by an Annual Conference, direct their Joint Committees on Clergy Medical Leave to study this issue over the course of a year and to report back to the Annual Conference in 2015.   These Joint Committees are well positioned to address this issue, involving the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits, The Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, and the Cabinet.  The intent is for the Joint Committees to consider all of the implications of this change, as well as the issues which may have given rise to it, and to formulate recommendations which would be an appropriate change to this policy for General Conference 2016 to adopt.  We are asking that in their study they consult with knowledgeable sources of information including the National Alliance on Mental Illness — and also including you, the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

As a result of this meeting, the Legislative Action Committee of the UMAMD, chaired by Robert Walker, issued the following report in August 2014:

Paragraph 652 calls for each conference having a joint committee doing with the process and care for ministers who are on medical leave. Two members of the joint committee must come from the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and the Conference Board of Pensions respectively. The paragraph goes on to state an optional member for the Joint Committee can be a retired or active minister with a disability. What will be researched and possibly made into a petition is to remove the option statement and replaced with a requirement statement. Eric Pridmore will research this matter and write a petition.

We will propose a petition that calls for the repealing of the 2012 General Conference dictum that ministers who are on medical leave due to a mental illness will be financially supported for only two years. Jackson Day will research this issue for a petition to the General conference.

We will examine the current statements in the Book of Discipline regarding full technological and structural accessibility to churches and parsonages for clergypersons, but also for the laity in the churches who cope with disabilities. If it is self-evident that we need a petition for this issue, we shall do so. Sharon McCart will research this matter and write a draft petition for us.

The UMC has raised the mandatory retirement age to 72 (Para. 352.1), and a concern has been raised that this requirement may have implications from the disability point of view. Jackson Day will research this concern for us. As a comment from me, when I was ordained as an elder in 1958, and as best as I can recall, the mandatory age was 72; some years later it was lowered to 70, and now it has returned to 72. Interesting, so I say.

A concern was raised over the fact that if a clergyperson on medical leave earns any amount of money, the benefit will be reduced. Medicare, however, allows an individual on medical leave to earn up to $1,000 per month. Might not the UMC health benefit plan do the same? Brian Burch will research this matter, and draft a petition.

The 2015 annual conferences begin in the month of May, and continue into the summer months. We intend to have our proposed petitions, complete with rationales, in your hands early enough in 2015 to meet the deadlines of your annual conferences. We will be asking you to present the petitions to yourself, local church and conference to submit to the General Conference.

Also, as Evy reminded us, be informed that the Love Your Neighbor Coalition will be supporting our petitions; further, I serve on that coalition’s Legislative Actions Committee, and I will be providing it with our petitions.

What we ask of you is that you support this process of study and discernment, identifying and disseminating helpful resources which can shed light on this topic.   We especially ask you to use the time between now and 2016 to identify ways that the concerns which led to the 2012 CPP changes could be addressed without discriminating between types of diagnoses, and without the risk that policies would be in place which could deny appropriate compensation while the need for that compensation still exists. 

In an ideal world, the changes finally to be brought before General Conference 2016 would have the unanimous support of all of us, and we will be pleased to work with you to achieve that unanimity!

Submitted by the Legislative Actions Committee of the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities, chaired by Robert L. Walker, D.Min.

Update: December 2014

Dear friends:
attached are two petitions whose destination is General Conference 2016. This is a significant milestone in a strategy approved by UMAMD a couple of years ago.

The issue addressed are the changes made at General Conference 2012 to the Comprehensive Protection Plan which provides disability compensation to clergy. This change resulted in compensation ceasing after two years in certain cases where the diagnosis was mental illness considered treatable or returnable. This caused consternation in the disability community. At the UMAMD meeting in Birmingham, knowing this could not be changed until GC 2016, we devised a strategy to have as many Annual Conferences as possible (1) direct their Joint Committees on Clergy Medical Leave in 2014 to study the issue and report back in 2015, and (2) submit petitions at Annual Conference in 2015 direct to General Conference 2016. It had seemed to me that if even one annual conference took this step, the process would work, but it would work better if a number did.

The Baltimore-Washington Conference Joint Committee on Clergy Medical Leave was mandated to do such a study last year, and we have met with our conference relations committee as well as representatives from the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and also from NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We are pleased to report that the General Board, based on difficulties they have had in making the revised procedures work, are drafting changes to the CPP program for approval by GC2016 which will eliminate the discrimination against mental illnesses, so we expect the issue which started all this to go away.

However, in the course of things, we discovered that the disability compensation program which we offer our lay employees both of our Annual Conferences and our General Agencies, is much worse that what bothered us about the CPP — in the case of lay employees, it's an automatic cut off after two years in the case of any "mental-nervous" condition, and that’s the "industry-standard." We did not feel that we could only focus on clergy and drop the ball once the needs of clergy seemed to be met.

So we are moving forward with the two petitions which you can download and read Microsoft Word. The first is a Disciplinary Change which charges our General Council on Finance and Administration with responsibility for making sure that no UMC agency offers discriminatory disability insurance to any other agency. This would protect our lay employees and secure the changes the General Board is making to CPP.

The second is a Resolution which charges the General Board of Church and Society, and conference boards of church and society, with promoting the same non-discrimination in the broader world outside the UMC. It obviously would be hypocritical to pass the resolution, encouraging virtue in others, if we have not passed the disciplinary provision requiring the same for ourselves!

These petitions were approved by our Joint Committee on Clergy Medical Leave last week and by our Commission on Disability Concerns last night. We have requested endorsements also from our Conference Board of Church and Society and other bodies.

While, as intended by the strategy we agreed on, these petitions are the work of the Baltimore-Washington agencies and will go forward regardless, it has always seemed to me that having multiple endorsers adds credibility to something when it is reviewed at General Conference.

We therefore ask for endorsement by the UMAMD at the 2015 meeting. We also ask for support and submissions from as many Annual Conferences as possible.

Let me know if I can be of assistance as you look at these and see what endorsements we can pick up!

Jack Day
Chair, BW Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits
BW Conference Joint Committee on Clergy Medical Leave