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Decision No. 24

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May 01 1944
In Re: Constitutionality of Paragraph 924 as to Lay Missionaries

Digest of Case

That part of Paragraph 924, Discipline 1940, which provides that outside the United States of America lay missionaries may be seated in an Annual Conference "with the right to vote on all questions not ministerial or constitutional, etc.," is unconstitutional, as Paragraph 21 of the Constitution strictly defines the composition and qualifications of the members of an Annual Conference.

Statement of Facts

At the evening session of May 1, 1944, the General Conference passed a motion made by L. O. Hartman that an appeal to the Judicial Council to be made to determine whether Paragraph 934 of the Discipline 1940 is constitutional. Paragraph 934 reads as follows, "In fields outside the United States the Annual Conference may seat regularly appointed lay missionaries of the Board of Missions and Church Extension in the Annual Conference session and give them the privileges of the floor and the right to vote on all questions not ministerial or constitutional and they shall be eligible for election to Mission or Conference Committees." Paragraph 21, Article I, of the Constitution defines the composition and qualifications of the members of the Annual Conference. "The Annual Conference shall be composed of all the Traveling Preachers in full connection with it, together with a Lay Member elected by each pastoral charge. The Lay Members shall be at least twenty-one (21) years of age and shall have been for the four years next preceding their election members of one of the constituent churches forming this union of The Methodist Church."

Decision

From this it is clear that only those laymen who have been elected by pastoral charges are eligible to membership in the Annual Conference and membership alone determines the right to vote on any matter before the Annual Conference. We must decide, therefore, that the part of Paragraph 934 which reads as follows, "The right to vote on all questions not Ministerial or constitutional and they shall be eligible for election to Mission or Conference Committees" is unconstitutional. The first part of Paragraph 934 which reads as follows, "In fields outside the United States the Annual Conference may seat regularly appointed lay missionaries of the Board of Missions and Church Extension in the Annual Conference session and give them the privileges of the floor" is constitutional; provided the phrase "may seat" used therein is not to be construed as extending to them membership in the Annual Conference.

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