Recently we have been picked up by a few Google searches for information on retirement of Methodist ministers. They no doubt drew a blank because it’s not a matter on which we’ve ever posted, so this is an attempt to rectify that omission.
In principle, Methodist ministers never retire: a minister who “sits down” in the ministry ceases to have a pastoral charge but is nevertheless expected to continue to contribute to the ministry of the Church for as long as he or she is able. Standing Orders 790 (Application to become Supernumerary), 791 (Status and Stationing) 792 (Continuing Ministry) and 793 (Return to the Active Work) apply to the situation.
Under SO 790 a presbyter or deacon in Full Connexion who will have been stationed for at least ten years at the end of the current connexional year (which runs from 1 September to 31 August) may seek permission to become a supernumerary with effect from the end of that year. Permission to become a supernumerary is given by the Conference or, in cases of urgency on grounds of ill-health, by the President of Conference. Except where the request is because of ill-health, permission will normally be granted only where the date on which the minister would become supernumerary coincides with the expected end of the minister’s current appointment as agreed in a previous connexional year or after curtailment. A minister may also apply for permission to become supernumerary on compassionate grounds.
Under the terms of SO 792, unless otherwise directed by a church court, a supernumerary is expected to continue in the exercise of ministry as he or she is able in collaboration with those in the active work in the Circuit in which he or she is stationed (or elsewhere by agreement with the appropriate Superintendent or Chair). A supernumerary presbyter exercises a continuing ministry of word, sacrament and pastoral responsibility, while a supernumerary deacon exercises a continuing ministry of service and witness.
A supernumerary minister who undertakes pastoral work on a regular basis in a Circuit or institution connected with the Church does so under a written agreement entered into with the consent of his or her Chair and the appropriate Superintendent or head of institution and, in the case of a deacon, the Warden of the Methodist Diaconal Order.
Under SO 793, where it is desired that a supernumerary presbyter should exercise pastoral charge in a Circuit, to be eligible to do so he or she must apply to return to the active work. An application for permission to return to the active work is normally made to the Stationing Advisory Committee; however, a minister who was made a supernumerary as a result of disciplinary action must apply to the President.
The amount of any pension to be received by a minister from the Methodist Ministers’ Pension Scheme and the age at which it is to be received are governed by the Rules of the Scheme. Currently, the “Normal Pension Date” for a member of the Scheme is 31 August in the calendar year of attaining male State Pension Age (which means that it will rise as the qualifying date for the State Retirement Pension rises). For service prior to 1 September 2013, the Normal Pension Date is 31 August in the calendar year in which the member reaches 65.
The basic principle governing the relationship between minsters and the Church is that, on being received into Full Connexion, the minister enters into a lifelong covenant relationship with the Church – not into a contract of employment. The special nature of the relationship was recognised by the Supreme Court in President of the Methodist Conference v Preston  UKSC 29, about which we posted at the time. As Lord Sumption JSC pointed out:
“Quite apart from the individual covenant which every member makes with her Church and with her God, the Methodist Church is an evangelical Church. That is why retired ministers are still expected to do what they can to further the work of the Church and no person in full connexion can give up her commitment to do this without its permission” [para 46].
With thanks to the Revd Gareth Powell for directing us to the relevant Standing Orders.