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Decision No. 115

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July 28 1955
In Re: Ruling of Bishop Clare Purcell Relative to the Real and Legal Date of the Close of the An- nual Conference Year, Given at the Session of the North Alabama Conference, September 8-12, 1954

Digest of Case

While an Annual Conference has the right to fix the dates of the fiscal year on which it operates, from the legal point of view the Conference year begins with the adjournment of an Annual Conference session and ends with the adjournment of the next regular session of the Conference.

Statement of Facts

The North Alabama Annual Conference, meeting at Birmingham Southern College, September 8-12, 1954, adopted on the recommendation of its Commission on World Service and Finance "a twelve months' Conference year beginning October 1, 1954, and ending September 30, 1955." G. M. Davenport then read the following request for a ruling by the Bishop: "A motion was passed at the 1954 session of the North Alabama Annual Conference setting the date of the beginning of the 1954-55 session (year) of the North Alabama Annual Conference as October 1, 1954, and ending the same Conference year September 30, 1955. Whereas the adjournment of the North Alabama Annual Conference will (not) be later than September 13, 1955, leaving a period of 17 days between the adjournment of the North Alabama Annual Conference and the date of September 30, 1955, which the North Alabama Annual Conference set as the close of the Conference year. Ruling is asked of Bishop Clare Purcell as to the real and legal date of the close of the Conference year. Is the close of the Conference year September 30 or on the date of the actual adjournment of the Conference?" The Decision of the bishop was as follows: "Throughout Methodist history the Conference year has begun immediately following the reading of the Appointments for the coming year and has ended at the adjournment of the next session of the Annual Conference. (Waugh as recorded on page 48 of 'Manual of the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South,' 19th edition, originally prepared by Holland N. McTyeire, revised and enlarged by Collins Denny, 1931.) It is obvious, therefore, that the Conference year begins and ends as above stated. "Although the word 'fiscal' does not appear in the Report of the Conference Commission on World Service and Finance which was adopted, it is clear that the intent of this Report was to fix a convenient date for the opening and closing of the business of the Conference agencies. Ample precedent for such an arrangement is found in the fact that June lst through the following May 31st is universally used as the business year of all General Conference Agencies, although the General Conference itself meets in April and May every fourth year. It is, therefore, the opinion of the undersigned that the Conference year is from the reading of the appointments to the closing of the next session of the Conference, and that it is not illegal for a Conference to fix October 1st through the following September 30th as a convenient date to begin and end the business of its Boards and other Agencies. CLARE PURCELL JURISDICTION The ruling of Bishop Purcell is properly before the Judicial Council under Paragraphs 43 (3) and 909 of the 1952 Discipline. ANALYSIS The first part of the Bishop's Decision in answer to the question concerning the "real and legal date of the close of the Conference year" is that "the Conference year is from the reading of the Appointments to the closing of the next session of the Conference." There seems to be an ambiguity here because the Conference year is said to begin at one place in an Annual Conference session and end in another place in the following Conference session. The ambiguity is slight because it has been Methodist custom to have the reading of the Appointments just prior to the adjournment of the Conference session. From the legal point of view, however, it would be more accurate to say that the legal Conference year is from the adjournment of an Annual Conference session to the adjournment of the next regular session of the Conference - that, therefore, the real and legal date for the closing of the Conference year is the date of the adjournment of the Conference session. Evidently this is what Bishop Purcell intended to hold. This means, of course, that the authority of all Conference actions, unless modified by a special session of the Conference, continues until the adjournment of the next regular Conference session. It seems, however, from the wording of the request for the Bishop's ruling, that the problem the request had in mind was the confusion resulting from various interpretations of the term "Conference year" for instance, whether, in the case of changes in Appointments at the Conference session, the ministers involved should have their salaries paid in terms of the legal Conference year or in terms of the fiscal Conference year adopted by the Conference. As the Bishop indicates in his ruling, an Annual Conference certainly has the right to determine the dates of the fiscal year on which it operates. Paragraphs 22 and 631 of the 1952 Discipline grant an Annual Conference the right to make rules to govern its own procedure in any manner not contradictory to the Constitution or to the powers granted to it by the General Conference. The Bishop fixes the dates of the Annual Conference session (Par. 626). While all concerned try to make the relation between the dates of the Conference session and the fiscal year as convenient as possible it is seldom possible in any Conference to have the legal and fiscal years coincide. The request for the Bishop's ruling notes that there are 17 days between the end of the Conference session and the end of the fiscal year, fixed by the Conference. Judging by the argument, the implied question is, "Who shall be paid for that 17 days in case of a change in Appointment, the minister who is leaving the charge, or the newly appointed minister?" The same problem would arise whether the adjournment of the Conference session came before or after the closing of the fiscal Conference year. Some churches and ministers have apparently assumed that the minister who is leaving a charge should be paid on the basis of the fiscal Conference year; others have assumed that he should be paid on the basis of the legal Conference year. The appointment of a minister in The Methodist Church is an Episcopal appointment. The charge to which he is appointed is responsible for his support while he is the appointed minister. Normally, when Appointments are made in an Annual Conference session, the period of a charge's responsibility for the support of a particular minister will coincide with the legal Conference year. It is difficult to see why there needs to be confusion here. A local Methodist charge pays its ministerial support and its Conference apportionments on the basis of the fiscal Conference year. This does not mean necessarily that in any fiscal year the total ministerial support is paid to one particular minister. When the Appointments are made in the month before or after the end of the fiscal Conference year surely the Conference can fix its procedures here, too, by determining, in charges where there are Appointment changes, what percentage of the month's salary involved shall be paid to the minister who leaves the charge and what percentage to the newly appointed minister.

Decision

It is therefore the Decision of the Judicial Council that the legal Conference year begins with adjournment of a regular session of an Annual Conference and ends with the adjournment of the next regular session of the Conference, and that an Annual Conference, in governing its own procedure, may determine the fiscal year on the basis on which it operates. The ruling of Bishop Clare Purcell, with the minor correction noted, is hereby affirmed.

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