Employed by God
Meredith Hurst Wednesday, March 23, 2011
In the case of Moore v President of the Methodist Conference the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held that a Methodist minister was an employee and so could bring an unfair dismissal claim. It may surprise you to learn that in previous cases the courts have considered the spiritual nature of a minister's role and found that a minister could not be an employee. Rather he accepts the call and his activities and duties are defined by conscience and not by contract. Or to put it another way, God is the employer. So said the aptly named Lord Templeman in the earlier case of Davis v Presbyterian Church of Wales. He went on to assert that as a minister is a servant of God an employment tribunal cannot determine whether a reasonable church would sever the link between minister and congregation.
However in a subsequent case of Percy v Board of National Mission of the Church of Scotland a majority of the House of Lords held that a minister of the Church of Scotland was in 'employment' and so was afforded protection for the purposes of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. In a further case of New Testament Church of God v Stewart the Court of Appeal held that a pastor was an employee of his church.
In the Moore case, the minister was subject to annual appraisals and the possibility of disciplinary action, received a stipend, manse accommodation and a pension from the church, namely the trappings of employment. The EAT also reviewed the constitution and operation of the Methodist Church and the nature of the contract between the parties.
The EAT held that Moore had a contract of service with the church. This was not to overlook the spiritual nature of a minister's role but the EAT did not see any incompatibility between being a servant of God and an employee of the church.