Methodist Conference v Preston: SC 15 May 2013

Minister was not an employee

The claimant asserted unfair dismissal. The Conference said that as an ordained minister she was not an employee, and was outwith the jurisdiction of such a claim.
Held: The Conference’s appeal succeeded (Baroness Hale dissenting). The essence of the arrangement between the Conference and a minister lay in the constitution of the Conference, and not in a contract. The relationship was established at and derived from the act of ordination, and was lifelong.
The question of whether a minister of religion serves under a contract of employment can no longer be answered simply by classifying the minister’s occupation by type: office or employment, spiritual or secular. Nor, in the generality of cases, can it be answered by reference to any presumption against the contractual character of the service of ministers of religion generally.
Three points were decisive: ‘ First, the manner in which a minister is engaged is incapable of being analysed in terms of contractual formation . . Secondly, the stipend and the manse are due to the minister by virtue only of his or her admission into full connexion and ordination . . Third, the relationship between the minister and the Church is not terminable except by the decision of the Conference or its Stationing Committee or a disciplinary committee. There is no unilateral right to resign, even on notice.’
Baroness Hale, dissenting said: ‘the relationship between a minister of religion and her Church, which is a temporal one, is not to be confused with the relationship between a minister of religion and her God, which is a spiritual one. As Ms Rose QC on behalf of the Methodist Church properly accepts, there is nothing intrinsic to religious ministry which is inconsistent with there being a contract between the minister and the Church.’


Lord Hope, Deputy President, Lady Hale, Lord Wilson, Lord Sumption, Lord Carnwath


[2013] UKSC 29, UKSC 2012/0015, [2013] IRLR 646, [2013] ICR 833, [2013] WLR(D) 179, [2013] 2 WLR 1350, [2013] 2 AC 163, [2013] 4 All ER 477, [2013] IRLR 646


Bailii, SC Summary, SC, WLRD, Bailii Summary


Employment Rights Act 1996 230


England and Wales


CitedPresident of the Methodist Conference v Parfitt CA 1-Oct-1983
The claimant sought to assert that he as a minister of the Methodist Church who had been received into full connection had a contract of employment with the church. Having that contract, he said hat he had been unfairly dismissed.
Held: A . .
Leave to appeal at EATMoore v The President of The Methodist Conference EAT 24-Nov-2010
EAT Jurisdictional Points : Worker, Employee or Neither – The claimant asserted the right not to be unfairly dismissed. She had been an ordained minister in Full Connection of the Methodist church.
Held: . .
At EATMoore v The President of The Methodist Conference EAT 15-Mar-2011
EAT JURISDICTIONAL POINTS – Worker, employee or neither
Claimant, a Methodist minister, brought proceedings for unfair dismissal – Tribunal held that it was bound by President of Methodist Church Conference . .
CitedRe National Insurance Act 1911: Re Employment of Church of England Curates 1912
A curate in the Church of England was not employed under a ‘contract of service’ within Part I(a): ‘The position of a curate is the position of a person who holds an ecclesiastical office, and not the position of a person whose rights and duties are . .
CitedScottish Insurance Commissioners v Church of Scotland SCS 18-Oct-1913
An assistant minister in the United Free Church said that he was an employee of the church.
Held: He was not. Lord Kinnear said that the status of an assistant minister ‘is not that of a person who undertakes work defined by contract but of a . .
CitedReverend Doctor A B Coker v Diocese of Southwark; Bishop of Southwark and Diocesan Board of Finance CA 11-Jul-1997
A Church of England Assistant Curate is not an employee, but rather a holder of an ecclesiastical office. There is a presumption that ministers of religion were office-holders who did not serve under a contract of employment. Accordingly he is not . .
Appeal fromThe President of The Methodist Conference v Preston CA 20-Dec-2011
The claimant had been an ordained minister in the church. She sought to claim unfair dismissal. The Conference replied that she was not an employee entitled to make such a claim.
Held: The claimant was an employee. . .
AppliedPercy v Church of Scotland Board of National Mission HL 15-Dec-2005
The claimant appealed after her claim for sex discrimination had failed. She had been dismissed from her position an associate minister of the church. The court had found that it had no jurisdiction, saying that her appointment was not an . .
CitedDavies v Presbyterian Church of Wales HL 1986
A minister of the Presbyterian Church of Wales who had been inducted pastor of a united pastorate in Wales claimed unfair dismissal.
Held: If the existence or otherwise of the relationship of employer and employee is dependent solely upon the . .

Cited by:

CitedSharpe v The Bishop of Worcester CA 30-Apr-2015
Reverend Sharpe applied for the post of Rector of Teme Valley South. The right to present (or nominate) a member of the clergy to this living was vested in Mr and Mrs Miles but a person could not be nominated without the Bishop’s approval, which was . .
CitedGilham v Ministry of Justice SC 16-Oct-2019
The Court was asked whether a district judge qualifies as a ‘worker’ for the purpose of the protection given to whistle-blowers under Part IVA of the 1996 Act, and if not then was the absence of protection an infringement of her human rights.
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Employment, Ecclesiastical

Leading Case

Updated: 21 April 2022; Ref: scu.509244