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Can a Church's "Irrevocable" Promise Become Revocable?

Why a church may have to honor a valuable commitment to a retired pastor.

When I retired as pastor, the church board took "irrevocable" action to provide full health coverage for my wife and me as long as we were alive. Recently I received a call from the current pastor stating that the board wants to cancel the health insurance benefits to my wife and me. The pastor stated that they are taking action because "they can change anything from past action." Can an "irrevocable" commitment be changed?

It is a well-established legal principle that a unilateral promise (i.e., a church board's irrevocable promise to pay a pastor's health insurance for life) is revocable. However, it is also well-established that unilateral promises can become irrevocable if they are supported by some form of "consideration."

Consideration is a legal concept that means something of value. To illustrate, X's promise to provide a benefit to Y is unenforceable because X receives nothing of value (consideration) for his promise. X's promise can become enforceable if he receives something of value from Y. Ordinarily this would be money or services. But, the courts also recognize some "exceptions" to the consideration requirement, which include "detrimental reliance." That is, if X makes a unilateral promise to Y, and receives no consideration for it, that promise can become enforceable if Y relies to his detriment upon X's promise.

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