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Letter To Bishop: Book Of Discipline Not Followed In Punitive Measures Against Evangelical Pastor


May 22, 2000

Bishop Melvin Talbert
PO Box 980250
West Sacramento, CA 95798-0250

Dear Bishop Talbert,

I am writing to document the events of last week. I am confused as to how to proceed. If the meeting was for the purpose of supervisory review, the disciplinary paragraph governing the meeting would be paragraph 358 in The Book of Discipline. If the purpose of the meeting was dealing with an appointment it would fall under the purview of paragraphs 431-433 in The Book of Discipline. I will pursue both directions.

The meeting of May 18, 2000 certainly seemed to be disciplinary in nature. In the meeting you reprimanded me for what you described as "arrogance and condescension." You wondered how someone as arrogant as me could possible have a successful ministry. You said I have a problem with authority. You said you lacked "good faith" that I was building a faithful United Methodist Church. As a consequence of your perceptions, you unilaterally demanded that I leave the Tehachapi congregation for a new appointment. When you asked me to respond I asked if anything I could say would change your mind. You said it would not. The appointment seems to be punitive and in response to what you perceive as character issues interfering with the performance of my duties.

Paragraph 358.1a in The Book of Discipline clearly states,

In the course of the ordinary fulfillment of the superintending role, the bishop or district superintendent may receive or initiate complaints about the performance or character of a clergy person.

Bishop, why have you not filed a complaint against me?

Ever since my district superintendent, Vickie Healy, made that after hours phone call on Mother’s Day night, I suspected that you and the cabinet were going to exercise some kind of disciplinary action. On Monday morning when I asked Vickie why she called so late on Sunday she said, "I wanted to give you a heads up." From Monday, May 15th through Wednesday, May 17th, I made numerous attempts to request that someone be allowed to be present with me. After much conversation with my district superintendent on Monday and Tuesday, she and Ardith Allread categorically rejected my request by insisting our meeting was simply a personnel meeting. And then, later that day, again rejected my request for counsel again asserting the meeting encompassed a personnel matter. On May 18th, when I came to meet with you, I brought counsel with me, and you excused him.

Paragraph 358.1.b clearly states,

"…the person against whom the complaint was made may choose another person to accompany him or her with the right to voice."

This was clearly denied me.

Paragraph 358.1.b also states,

The supervisory response is pastoral and administrative and shall be directed toward a just resolution and/or reconciliation among all parties.

In phone conversations and letters, I had clearly expressed the recognition that the covenant between us was strained if not broken. In a phone conversation, witnessed by my brother, an Episcopal priest, you said clearly on the phone that you were not interested in seeking resolution to our conflict. I was dumbfounded. I asked you to repeat what you had said. And you did. You were not then, and I can only presume, you are not now interested in seeking resolution with me.

If what you intended was disciplinary action against me, you violated numerous procedures outlined in The Book of Discipline.

But perhaps your action was not intended to be corrective. Perhaps the meeting was merely to communicate to me that you had appointed me to a new congregation.

Paragraphs 431-433 govern the consultation and appointment making process.

Paragraph 431.1, clearly and simply states,

The process of consultation shall be mandatory in every annual conference.

There was no consultation involved when you announced to me that I would be moving.

Paragraph 432 states that,

"To assist bishops, cabinets, pastors, and congregations to achieve an effective match of charges and pastors, criteria must be developed and analyzed in each instance and then shared with pastors and congregations."

No criteria was shared with me about the congregation to which I would be appointed nor how my gifts or experience might serve the mission of the church.

Paragraph 433.3 states,

When a change in appointment has been determined, the district superintendent should meet together or separately with the pastor and the committee on pastor-parish relations where the pastor is serving, for the purpose of sharing the basis for the change and the process used in making the new appointment.

No such meeting ever took place, either with myself or with Tehachapi Valley’s Pastor-Parish Relations Committee.

Paragraph 433.5a states,

The district superintendent shall confer with the pastor about a specific possible appointment (charge) and its congruence with gifts, evidence of God’s grace, professional experience and expectations, and the family needs of the pastor, identified in consultation with the pastor.

No such consultation took place. I have no idea of the congruence of my gifts with the congregation to which I am appointed. No conversation has ever taken place regarding the needs of my family.

If the meeting of May 18, 2000 was to inform me of a new appointment, I am amazed that the process outlined in The Book of Discipline was blatantly ignored. On Saturday, May 20, 2000, Vickie Healy shared with numerous members of the Tehachapi Valley United Methodist Church that she had no knowledge of this new appointment before the cabinet meeting of May 18, 2000, just prior to my meeting with you. David Bennett, also present on Saturday, May 20, 2000 shared that the full cabinet was involved in this decision. Interestingly, the Pastor-Parish Relations Committees of both Tehachapi Valley United Methodist Church and of the church to which I would be appointed was not involved. I certainly was not involved. Clearly your unilateral appoint was made without regard to the process outlined in The Book of Discipline.

And so I am confused. Was the meeting intended to correct my behavior or character, or was it intended to announce a unilateral appointment? In either case, the action was taken without regard to the stipulations of The Book of Discipline.

Sincerely,

 

Kyle Phillips

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