But They Promised

A pastor had a board commitment that he and his wife would be covered by the church’s health insurance policy and that the church would pay their premiums during their retirement for their lifetime.  Several years into their retirement the pastor and his wife were notified that the board had decided that they would be cancelling the policy covering them because the board was not obligated to continue the actions of the previous board.  “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. ”  Exodus 1:8.  Successor pastors and new board members not involved with the former pastor believe they can make decisions contrary to previous boards.

Unilateral promises (only one side agreed) are revocable by that party.  However, if there is consideration by the recipient of the promise, it can become irrevocable.  Essentially, consideration consists of anything of value which usually consists of money or services.  However, the courts have recognized something called ‘detrimental reliance’ to make some unilateral promises irrevocable.

The pastor went to court to prove that ‘detrimental reliance’ in court and have the court order the church to continue the health insurance policy.  The court ruled against the pastor as it found no ‘detrimental reliance’ on the part of the pastor.  The pastor chose not to appeal the decision.  He now is paying for his own health coverage.

What did we learn here?  First, if your agreement with the board is based on their commitment to you without consideration on your part, then ‘whatever the board giveth, the board can taketh away.’  Second, have any agreement made between you and the board drawn up by an attorney so it reflects proper consideration on your part and becomes a bilateral contract (promises by both parties).  A bilateral contract cannot be changed by one party alone and you have the board signed to the agreement.  Any failure by the church would give you a better case to retain what they promised if you had to go to court. A contract is better than minutes when having a board keep its promises.


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