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Decision No. 36

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May 08 1946
In Re: Ruling of Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, in Response to a Request from Ross A. Cobb During the New York Annual Conference Held at the St. James Methodist Church, Kingston, New York, Thursday, May 3, 1945

Digest of Case

As an Annual Conference has no quorum, a session of Conference held in wartime abbreviated to one day, and ostensibly restricted in attendance to officers and certain Committees (although it was stated that all members of the Conference were entitled to be present), although irregular, was nevertheless a legal session.

Statement of Facts

During the New York Annual Conference held at the St. James Methodist Church at Kingston, New York, Thursday, May 3, 1946, Mr. Ross A. Cobb, a Lay Member of the Conference,made the following request for a Ruling:"As a duly elected member of this Conference, I herewith raise the question of the legality of the calling and holding of an abbreviated or restricted Conference, whether by direct order or by strongly worded recommendation. I refer in particular to Section 7 of Article 21 of the Constitution of The Methodist Church, which reads as follows: "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." Bishop's Ruling The presiding Bishop made his ruling as follows, together with a statement of the authority for and reasoning upon which ruling is based. The session of the New York Annual Conference held in the St. James Methodist Church at Kingston, New York, Thursday, May 3, 1945, is a legal session of the Conference. (1) The General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1912 approved the following Ruling of the Bishops: "November, 1910. An Annual Conference is not a self-constituted organization, but is a body created for certain specific purposes and has no power to establish any definite or proportionate number as a quorum for the transaction of the business of the Conference. (2) In "A Manual of the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Including the Decisions of the College of Bishops," originally prepared by Holland N. MeTyeire, revised and enlarged by Collins Denny, Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Nineteenth Edition, 1931, the following actions are recorded: Page 41, No. 7. "Not being a delegate or strictly representative body, an Annual Conference has no quorum. Any number of its members who may meet at the time and place officially appointed may proceed to organize and to transact business." Page 230, No. 4. "An Annual Conference has no quorum; any number of its members, met at the time and place officially appointed, are competent to organize and proceed to business. But, as a portion of its membership is elective, and these have a right to participate in the organization, the names of those present must be recognized and enrolled before the Conference organization can be completed." (3) The Bishop, therefore, in making the above Ruling, holds that no quorum for an Annual Conference is established in the law of the Church. (4) When an Annual Conference is in session, it may determine when it will adjourn or how long it will remain in session. No announcements by Secretaries or others indicating that the session is to be for but a single day takes from the Annual Conference the right to adjourn in less than a day or to continue in session more than a day. Consequently, the reference to the term "abbreviated" is not related to the question of the legality of the Conference that did meet. (5) The call for this Conference distinctly stated, "All members of the Conferences (referring to all of the Conferences of the Area) are entitled to be present." It is true that in a national crisis and in an endeavor to co-operate patriotically in efforts to win the war, the Bishop and the District Superintendents, in conformity to a recommendation from the Council of Bishops, did make a certain recommendation to the ministers. This recommendation did not deny the right of any man to come, but gave advice upon which he was free to act. The fact is, many did attend in addition to the Chairmen of Committees and others whose attendance was specifically requested. The legality of the Conference session, however, is not involved in any recommendations that may be made in this connection. (6) The New York Conference was held at the time and place as determined by the Council of Bishops. No one was denied the privilege of attending; and, since no quorum is required, those present constituted a legal session. (Signed) G. BROMLEY OXNAM


This ruling by Bishop Oxnam is now properly before the Judicial Council for review. From the Statement of Facts accompanying the Report of the above quoted Ruling and now before the Judicial Council, it appears that prior to the "abbreviated" session of the New York Annual Conference, Bishop Oxnam and the District Superintendents of the New York Area, sent to each member of the various Annual Conferences in the New York Area, a letter reviewing in detail the circumstances that, to them, seemed to make it imperative that only one-day sessions of the Annual Conferences in that Area should be held, and strongly urging the members not to attend. This was done solely for the purpose of preventing the attendance from exceeding the limit of fifty established by the O.D.T. for conventions to be held during the national emergency. This communication is rather lengthy and need not be produced in full here. The following paragraph is quoted because of its pertinency to the decision of the Judicial Council hereinafter set forth: "In view of the recommendation of the Council of Bishops the District Superintendents of the Area met with the Bishop on February 16 and voted unanimously to make the policy recommended by the Council the policy of the New York Area. We will meet, therefore, in Annual Conference sessions. These sessions will be for but a single day. All members of the Conferences are entitled to be present. However, it is our thought that it would be wiser if only the Bishop, the members of the Cabinet, the Chairmen and Secretaries of important Committees were to attend. It will be possible for the Committees to meet in advance of the Annual Conference, discuss the matters which must be cared for, and then have the Chairmen and the Secretaries present the recommendations to the Conference in the single session where, in all probability, there will be fewer than fifty percent. This, of course, is but a temporary adjustment to a national emergency." In this connection we call attention to Paragraph No. 636 of the Discipline, which reads as follows: "P. 636. All members of the Annual Conference, including probationers and accepted supplies, shall attend the sessions of the Annual Conference," etc. The procedure followed at least had a tendency to nullify the provisions of this Paragraph. Its justification is based solely on the apparent necessity growing out of an existing national emergency. That a national emergency did then exist is common knowledge to all concerned. It will be noted that the notice of the intention to hold the "abbreviated" sessions of the Annual Conferences did contain the following sentence: "All members of the Conferences are entitled to be present." We are informed that many others in addition to those who were specifically invited did attend-thus indicating that no one felt that his right to attend was being denied. Under the circumstances, the procedure followed cannot be classified as arbitrary. No claim has been made that it was prompted by ulterior motives on the part of the presiding Bishop and his Cabinet, and certainly no evidence of ulterior motives on their part has been presented to the Judicial Council. We, therefore, approve the Ruling of Bishop Oxnam as above set forth, with the following observation: This decision is in no way to be regarded as a precedent, as the procedure followed was irregular and was pursued only because of the existence of a national emergency, which we hope and pray shall never again occur.

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