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Decision No. 119

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July 28 1955
In Re: Whether the Proceeds of the Sale of Grace Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon, Should Be Turned Over to the Conference Claim- ants' Endowment Fund, or to the Port- land District of the Oregon Annual Conference

Digest of Case

When an Annual Conference adopts a Standing Rule it is bound by such Rule unless same is suspended or rescinded and some other action taken. Any action in conflict with the Standing Rule taken without suspending or rescinding the Rule is void. Therefore, the proceeds of the sale of Grace Methodist Church belong to the Conference Claimants Endowment Fund as determined by the Standing Rule of the Oregon Annual Conference.

Statement of Facts

Request for Declaratory Decision The following request for a Declaratory Decision by the Judicial Council has been received from the Oregon Annual Conference of The Methodist Church: "Resolution "Be It Resolved, by the Oregon Annual Conference of The Methodist Church that the following matter be submitted to The Judicial Council with a request that the Judicial Council render a Declaratory Decision thereon: "Whether the proceeds derived from the sale of the Grace Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon, formerly known as 'The First German Church of Portland, Oregon,' is the property and should be turned over to the Conference Claimants' Endowment Fund of the Oregon Annual Conference, or whether it is the property of, and should be turned over to, the Portland District of the Oregon Annual Conference. "Respectfully submitted. /s/ Milton A. Marcy /s/ Edward Terry" "Certificate "I, Lawrence Guderian, Secretary of the Oregon Annual Conference of The Methodist Church, hereby certify that the above and foregoing Resolution was adopted by said Annual Conference at its annual session held on the 19th day of June, 1954. "Witness my official signature this, the 18th day of June, 1955. ''/s/ Lawrence Guderian Secretary of the Oregon Annual Conference of The Methodist Church." JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 914 of the 1952 Discipline of The Methodist Church to hear and determine the matter here submitted. Statement In 1928, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church adopted the following policy relating to the properties of foreign language churches being merged with English speaking churches. "Par. 354. Transfer of Property of Merging Charges. When a foreign language church merges with one or more English-speaking charges, thereby abandoning their church and parsonage property, such property may by vote of the Quarterly Conference, a majority of all members of such Quarterly Conference concurring, be, prior to such merger, conveyed to the Trustees of the Annual Conference, within whose geographical territory the property is located at the time of the merger, in trust for the benefit of the Conference Claimants of such Annual Conference." (Page 601, 1928 General Conference Journal, Methodist Episcopal Church.) In 1932 the following rule appeared in the Oregon Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church: "XV. Abandoned Church Property, Sec. 1. When any property of the German speaking churches within the bounds of the Oregon Annual Conference becomes abandoned according to the Disciplinary requirements, the Trustees of the Conference are instructed to turn the property to the Board of Conference Claimants of the Conference for Administration." This was a policy established by the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Oregon Annual Conference prior to Union. In 1940 (after Union) the General Conference adopted the following provision relative to abandoned Church property: "Par. 782. With the consent of the Presiding Bishop and a majority of the District Superintendents and the District Board of Church Location and Building within whose jurisdiction the action is contemplated, the Annual Conference may declare any charge or church within its bounds discontinued or abandoned. Upon a charge or church being thus discontinued or abandoned it shall be the duty of its Board of Trustees to make such disposition of the property thereof as the Annual Conference shall direct, and if no such lawful Trustees remain, or if for any reason said Trustees fail to make such disposition, then it shall be the duty of the Trustees of the Annual Conference to sell or dispose of said property in accordance with the directions of the Annual Conference. . . ." In 1940, following the enactment of the above quoted provision by the General Conference, the Oregon Annual Conference amended its Standing Rule as to the disposition of abandoned Church property to read as follows: "'30. Abandoned Church Property. Sec. I. When the District Superintendent has decided to request the Annual Conference to declare a certain property abandoned, he shall first record the individual Trustees of the Annual Conference as the elected Trustees of the church property in such a way as to make them the Trustees of said property. (Par. 188, 354). "'Sec. 2. The District Superintendent's motion declaring any of the German property abandoned, shall also carry the reference of the property to the Board of Claimants' Endowment Fund of the Oregon Conference Claimants' Permanent Fund.'" (Journal of the Oregon Annual Conference of 1940, Page 92) This was the Standing Rule of the Oregon Annual Conference on February 22, 1951, when the Grace Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon was declared abandoned property and was also the rule in 1953 when the property was sold. On June 14, 1951, without suspending the above quoted Standing Rule, the Oregon Annual Conference took the following action relative to the proceeds of the sale of the Grace Methodist Church of Portland: "'On motion of T. Malcolm Hammond, the Grace Methodist Church was declared abandoned, the property to be sold and the proceeds to be returned to the Portland District.'" (Journal of the Oregon Annual Conference of 1951, Page 33) The proceeds of such sale are still in the hands of the Conference Board of Trustees. On June 8) 1954, the following actions were taken by and in the Oregon Annual Conference: "At the corporate session on June 18, 1954, the following action was taken: "'On motion of Edward Terry, all previous action relative to disposition of the Funds received from the sale of the Grace Methodist Church, a former German Methodist Church, was rescinded. "On motion of Edward Terry, the $15,000 which remains in the fund was turned over to the Lents Church, Portland.'" (Journal of the Oregon Annual Conference of 1954, Page 37) The legality of the action taken at the corporate session of June 18, 1954, was called in question the next morning, June 19, 1954, and the Bishop made his ruling, which is recorded as follows: "'Legality of action. Bishop Grant ruled that action of the Conference during the corporate session rescinding all previous action in regard to the sale of the German Church properties was illegal because it did not carry a two-thirds vote, which is necessary with a motion to rescind.'" (Journal of the Oregon Annual Conference of 1954, Page 38) ANALYSIS The Grace Methodist Church formerly known as the First German Church of Portland, Oregon, was one of the churches of the Pacific German Conference that came into the Oregon Annual Conference at the time the Pacific German Annual Conference was merged with the Oregon Annual Conference. The original actions in this case took place prior to Union, the General Conference of 1928 having authorized the establishment of a Rule whereby, upon vote of a majority of all members of the Quarterly Conference, taken by the foreign language Church prior to merger, the property of the Church being abandoned could be conveyed to the TRUSTEES of the Annual Conference "in trust for the benefit of the Conference Claimants of such Annual Conference." It will be noted that this authority to convey such property to the Trustees of the Annual Conference "in trust for the Conference Claimants of such Annual Conference" was predicated upon the vote of a majority of all the members of the Quarterly Conference; and that it did not give the Annual Conference the authority to so transfer the property in the absence of such a vote by the Quarterly Conference of the foreign language church being merged with another church. Hence the 1932 rule of the Oregon Annual Conference was applicable only to such merging foreign language churches whose Quarterly Conferences, prior to merger, had by a majority vote of their respective membership, authorized the same. The Grace Methodist Church of Portland, however, did not dissolve until 1951. The rules and regulations made by General Conferences and by Annual Conferences, however, are not like the laws of the Medes and Persians. They are subject to change from time to time, the only limitations being that they do not contravene the Constitution, and cannot be made retroactive so as to impair a legal contract. Let us look, therefore, to the provisions of the law as of February 22, 1951. In 1939, three Churches, including the Methodist Episcopal Church, were united into one Church under a new Constitution denominated the Plan of Union. Under this plan the Discipline by which the United Church was to be governed was to be framed by the Uniting Conference, under the following provisions of the Plan of Union: "Article IV. The duties and powers of the Uniting Conference subject to the provisions of this Plan of Union shall be: "1. To harmonize and combine the rules and regulations as found in the Disciplines of the three Churches relating to membership, Conferences, the ministry, judicial administration, and temporal economy." "Article VII. The legislative power of the Uniting Conference shall be confined to harmonizing and combining provisions now existing in the Disciplines of the three, Churches, one or more of these. This was interpreted by the Uniting Conference as giving it power to form the Discipline of the united Church by taking anything it found in any one of the three Disciplines on a given subject, or combining and harmonizing provisions taken from two or all three of the Disciplines of the uniting Churches, and putting same into the new Discipline. The new Discipline, therefore, was to supersede the Disciplines of the three uniting Churches, and to be the Discipline of The Methodist Church. Apparently the Uniting Conference overlooked the question of "Abandoned Church property," as it did not make any provision as to the disposition of any abandoned church property. The only provision in the 1939 Discipline being Sub. 11 of Par. 228 requiring the District Superintendent "to prepare and deliver to his successor an official list of all abandoned church buildings, parsonages, cemeteries and other property within the bounds of his District, etc." The 1940 General Conference of the united Church remedied this omission by adopting the following provision: "Par. 782. With the consent of the presiding Bishop and a majority of the District Superintendents and the District Board of Church Location and Building within whose jurisdiction the action is contemplated, the Annual Conference may declare any charge or church within its bounds discontinued or abandoned. Upon a charge or church being thus discontinued or abandoned it shall be the duty of its Board of Trustees to make such disposition of the property thereof as the Annual Conference shall direct, and if no such lawful Trustees remain or if for any reason said Trustees fail to make such disposition, then it shall be the duty of the Trustees of the Annual Conference to sell or dispose of said property in accordance with the Directions of the Annual Conference." (Discipline of The Methodist Church of 1940, Page 240) This same provision was carried forward in the 1944 Discipline and in the 1948 Discipline and was, therefore, the law on the subject on February 22, 1951, when the Grace Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon, dissolved. Under this law the properties of Grace Methodist Church, upon abandonment, passed under the control of the Annual Conference. According to the affidavit furnished setting forth procedure under which Grace Methodist Church dissolved, the Quarterly Conference of Grace Methodist Church recognized this to be the law, and directed "that such action as may be deemed necessary be taken to place the properties in the custody of the Oregon Annual Conference as of June, 1951." Apparently the Trustees of Grace Methodist Church failed to carry out these instructions. Upon their failure to do so, then, under the law above quoted the property passed into the control of the Annual Conference, to be sold or disposed of in accordance with the direction of the Annual Conference. Furthermore, the explanation given to inquiries made during the meeting of the Quarterly Conference of Grace Methodist Church at which the Church dissolved shows that all understood that control of the properties would thereafter be in the Annual Conference, otherwise the petition to the Annual Conference to allocate the proceeds of the sale of such property "for Church Extension purposes within the Portland District" would have been without purpose and without meaning. Therefore, it is the finding of the Judicial Council that from and after February 22, 1951, the date of the abandonment of the Grace Methodist Church, the control and disposition of the properties of Grace Methodist Church were under the direction of the Oregon Annual Conference of The Methodist Church, subject to its own rules and regulations. In 1940, the Oregon Annual Conference set up its own Rule for the disposition of abandoned church property, It reads as follows: "'30. Abandoned Church Property. Sec. 1. When the District Superintendent has decided to request the Annual Conference to declare a certain property abandoned, he shall first record the individual Trustees of the Annual Conference as the elected Trustees of the church property in such a way to make them the Trustees of said property. (Par. 188, 354). "'Sec. 2. The District Superintendent's motion declaring any of the German property abandoned, shall also carry the reference of the property to the Board of Claimants' Endowment Fund of the Oregon Conference Claimants' Permanent Fund.'" (Journal of the Oregon Annual Conference of 1940, Page 92) This Rule, in effect, brought forward the original understanding of 1928 to 1932, relative to the disposition of the property of former German Churches. That Conference rule was still in effect on February 22, 1951, when Grace Methodist Church dissolved. Since it is an action of the Annual Conference under an established policy, and since the Annual Conference is the final authority in the disposition of abandoned church property, it would not appear that such Standing Rule is in anywise in conflict with the law of the Church as set out in the Discipline of the United Church. However, on June 14, 1951, the Oregon Annual Conference took the following actions: "'On motion of T. Malcolm Hammond, the Grace Methodist Church was declared abandoned, the property to be sold and the proceeds to be returned to the Portland District."' (Journal of the Oregon Annual Conference of 1951, Page 33) Here are two conflicting actions by the Annual Conference, one being a Standing Rule, and the other being the adoption of two motions at variance with the Standing Rule. The ultimate question involved in this matter is to decide which action of the Annual Conference controls-the Conference Rule relating to abandoned church properties or the specific actions of the Annual Conference with reference to the abandoned properties of Grace Methodist Church, and the proceeds of the sale thereof. If the Conference Standing Rule is paramount, then the specific actions relating to the disposition of the abandoned church property and proceeds of the sale of the property of Grace Methodist Church are void, and the June 18, 1954 action of the Oregon Annual Conference rescinding "all previous action relative to disposition of the funds received from the sale of the Grace Methodist Church, a former German Methodist Church" was and is immaterial. However, if the specific action of the Annual Conference allocating the proceeds of the sale of the properties of Grace Methodist Church to church extension purposes in the Portland District takes precedence over the Conference Standing Rule, then the question as to whether the action rescinding same is valid becomes pertinent. In the brief submitted in favor of the Conference Standing Rule being paramount to the special actions of the Annual Conference, appears the following statement: "At the time of the motion by T. Malcolm Hammond and the motion by Edward Terry, no motion had been made or adopted to suspend the Conference Rules." This statement is not denied in the brief submitted in support of the special actions of the Annual Conference allocating the proceeds of this property to the Portland District. The Judicial Council assumes therefore that the Conference Rule No. 30 had not been suspended when these special actions were taken. Under the Constitution, the Annual Conference is the "basic" body in our Church, and has the right to make its own Rules and Regulations, so long as same do not conflict with the general law of the Church. The Judicial Council has consistently held, however, that when an Annual Conference establishes a Rule it is bound by that Rule until that Rule has been suspended or abolished or another Rule adopted to take its place. (Decision 38 of the Judicial Council, in Re: Corporation Meetings, Central Kansas Conference. Decision 75; Re - The election of Trustees for the White Cross Hospital, Columbus, Ohio.) It has been argued that the adoption by the Annual Conference of the special motion directing the property to the Portland District was, in effect a suspension of the Standing Rule. This is to some extent persuasive, but to approve such action in a case where the Standing Rule has been ignored, even by oversight, would in effect make the adoption of Standing Rules a practical nullity. The Annual Conference has the right to suspend or change its Standing Rules at any time it so chooses, by whatever vote it has established for its ow-n procedure. But to maintain in its Journal year after year a Standing Rule and then ignore it by special action at variance with the Rule without suspending or changing the Rule would make the Standing Rule of no effect.

Decision

Since Par. 255 of the 1948 Discipline left the final disposition of abandoned church property in the hands of the Annual Conference, it is the Decision of the Judicial Council that NEITHER the Oregon Annual Conference Standing Rule No. 30, sub. 2, placing such property in the hands of the Conference Trustees, and referring the property to the Board of Claimants' Endowment Fund of the Oregon Claimants permanent fund, NOR the special actions of the Oregon Annual Conference referring the property and ordering the cash on hand paid to the Portland District are in conflict with said Par. 255 of the 1948 Discipline. Each such action is an action of the Annual Conference, the ultimate authority in the disposition of the property. The Annual Conference, by proper procedure, had the right to do either. It is further the Decision of the Judicial Council that since said Standing Rule No. 30 of the Oregon Annual Conference was not suspended or rescinded at or before the taking of the special actions of the Oregon Annual Conference directing the reference of money and property of Grace Methodist Church to the Portland District, said Standing Rule No. 30 is paramount, and such special actions of the Oregon Annual Conference in conflict with such Standing Rule No. 30 are void. The Judicial Council has not been advised as to whether or not the Oregon Annual Conference has any set Rules of Parliamentary Procedure. In the absence of any specific Conference rules for Parliamentary Procedure, it is presumed that the Bishop presiding over the Annual Conference had the right to follow the Parliamentary Procedure of some recognized authority such as Roberts Rules of Order. Under Roberts Rules of Order paragraph 67, pages 264-269, Standing Rules may be suspended, but, in the absence of the suspension of the Standing Rule no motion that conflicts therewith is in order. It is in the light of this authority and the admitted facts in this case, that the Judicial Council holds the special acts of the Oregon Annual Conference referring the money and property of the Grace Methodist Church to the Portland District to be void. Therefore, answering the specific question propounded by the Oregon Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision, it is the Decision of the Judicial Council that in the light of the present record of the proceedings of the Oregon Annual Conference, and the law applicable thereto, the abandoned property of Grace Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon (and the proceeds from the sale thereof), is the property of and should be turned over to the Conference Claimants' Endowment Fund of the Oregon Annual Conference.

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