Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 157
October 16 1959
In Re: Ruling of Bishop William T. Watkins at Memphis Annual Conference, June 8, 1958, Relating to the Powers and Duties of an Annual Conference Board of Min- isterial Training and Qualifications
Digest of Case
An Annual Conference Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications may withhold recommendation for ordination or full connection in the Annual Conference of a candidate who, in its judgment, has been unfaithful to his ministerial vows.
Statement of Facts
The following statement was received by the secretary of the Judicial Council: "At the opening session of Memphis Conference, at Lambuth College Chapel, June 3rd, 1958, Reverend H. W. Rash, Chairman of Ministerial Training and Qualifications, presented a written statement to Bishop Wm. T. Watkins, Presiding, as follows: "'In the light of what is required of all men seeking Admission on Trial, the Board of Ministerial Training is seriously concerned over the flagrant violation of these vows taken previously by other members of the Annual Conference. "'Bishop, Since the Church requires all candidates for License to Preach and all candidates for Admission on Trial to agree to abstain from the use of tobacco, your Board of Ministerial Training has directed me as its Chairman to ask you to rule upon the recommendation of men for Ordination who use tobacco. "'We request your ruling now that we may be able to proceed with the business of our Board."' After some questioning concerning the matter by Bishop Watkins and from the floor, Bishop Watkins stated that he would submit his ruling in writing tomorrow. "At the Second session of the Conference, Wednesday morning, June 4th, 1958, Bishop Watkins submitted this ruling in writing: "'Since the Annual Conference may not admit or advance a candidate for membership except upon the recommendation of the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications, it follows that failure to recommend completely and finally stops the progress of a candidate toward full membership in an Annual Conference. The Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications had the right and duty to inquire into the character and habits of life of a candidate for conference membership and to make recommendation accordingly but when this has been done and the candidate has been admitted to membership the authority of the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications is definitely delimited thereby. For the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications to estop a candidate on the ground of a broken promise ultimately has all the legal effects of a trial, conviction and expulsion. Trial, conviction and the assessing of a penalty is clearly a judicial process to be exercised by the Church courts alone. For the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications to exercise such power is to deny the conference member the right to trial. While the Church is not without legal remedy in a case of this kind, the exercise of judicial functions by the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications is not that remedy.' Signed: W. T. Watkins, June 4th, 1958. "The above is certified to be true and exact copying of the quoted request and the written ruling of Bishop W. T. Watkins. "Witness my hand this Twelfth day of July, 1958. Wm. M. O'Donnell Conference Secretary Memphis Conference, SEJ" Accompanying this statement was a syllabus of the case submitted by Bishop Watkins in elaboration and support of his ruling. JURISDICTION The ruling of Bishop Watkins is properly before the Judicial Council by the provisions of Paragraph 909 of the 1956 Discipline. ANALYSIS The question upon which Bishop Watkins was asked to rule, as we understand it from the context both of the request for a ruling and the bishop's ruling itself is: "May a Conference Board of Ministerial Training and Qualificationsrefuse to recommend for ordination and full membership in the Annual Conference candidates who have violated vows which they have promised and are by the Discipline required to observe?" or, quoting directly from the syllabus submitted by the bishop, "Stripped of excess verbiage the essence of the case is: Where an undergraduate is known to have violated his pledge to abstain fromthe use of tobacco, does the Board of Ministerial Training have the authority to hold up his ordination under these circumstances?" The ruling of Bishop Watkins in this case seems to be contained in the second sentence of his statement, "The Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications had the right and duty to inquire into the character and habits of life of a candidate for conference membership and to make recommendation accordingly but when this has been done and the candidate has been admitted to membership the authority of the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications is definitely delimited thereby." In his accompanying syllabus the bishop says, "The Board of Ministerial Training unquestionably has the responsibility of investigating the character as well as the qualifications of a candidate for admission on trial. But having made this investigation and recommended the candidate for admission on trial, the authority of the Board of Ministerial Training over the character of the candidate is at an end." The Judicial Council, therefore, concludes that the question involves the authority and responsibility of an Annual Conference Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications in its relationship to "undergraduates" or "members on trial" and has no reference whatsoever to members of the conference in "full connection." While the question as submitted has specific reference to the use of tobacco in violation of ministerial vows, the ruling of Bishop Watkins and the accompanying syllabus of this case rest upon a broader base and involve the powers and limitations of a Conference Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications in the recommendation of members on trial for ordination and full membership in the Annual Conference. Paragraph 321 of the 1956 Discipline states: "A member on trial is on probation as to his character, his preaching, and his competency as a pastor. During this period the church determines whether he is worthy of becoming a full member of the conference. A person on trial may be discontinued without any reflection on his character." In setting forth the requirements of a candidate for "Admission into Full Connection" paragraph 341 of the 1956 Discipline states: "A member on trial may be admitted into full connection in an Annual Conference by vote of its ministerial members, on recommendation of its Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications, provided he shall have: . . ." Herefollow the several qualifications for eligibility. Paragraph 405 of the 1956 Discipline, in the section relating to the election and ordination of elders, states: "No persons shall be elected to elder's orders except such as are of unquestionable moral character and genuine piety, sound in the fundamental doctrine of Christianity and faithful in the discharge of gospel duties." Paragraphs 669-674 of the 1956 Discipline set forth the organization and duties of an Annual Conference Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications. Paragraph 671 states: "The Board shall examine (a) all applicants for employment as approved supply pastors and (b) for admission on trial as to their fitness for the ministry, as provided in Paragraphs 314-18, 321-30, and shall make full inquiry as to the fitness of (c) candidates for admission into full connection. This must include an examination as to character, habits of life, conversion, call to the ministry, Christian experience, evangelistic and missionary concern. . . . The Board shall also report recommendations concerning: (d) candidates forordination as deacons; (e) candidates for ordination as elders. . . ." From these references to the Discipline it is clear that the General Conference in enacting this legislation intended to confer upon an Annual Conference Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications not only exacting responsibilities but also broad discretionary powers. It must stand at the door of the Annual Conference to enlist and recommend such persons as are worthy of being placed on trial in the Annual Conference and who meet the standards and requirements of the Discipline. But its responsibility does not end when candidates are received on trial; it must continue (Paragraph 670) "to provide guidance and counsel to them in their training and preparation for the ministry." The probationary period ended, the Discipline requires an even more careful and scrutinizing examination of the candidate by the Board, designating the many areas which "must" be included in such examination. (Par. 671.) The very first of these are "character" and "habits of life." It must be remembered that a member "on trial" in an Annual Conference stands in an entirely different relationship to the conference than does the member "in full connection." During his trial period he stands outside the doors of the Annual Conference, with no right to participate or vote in its proceedings, awaiting the final decision of the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications and the Annual Conference as to his fitness and qualifications for full membership. He does not possess the right to demand that judicial procedures be carried out should the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications or the Annual Conference decide that he is unfitted for conference membership because of his failure in any aspect of his ministerial life such as those specifically mentioned in the Discipline: "character,""habits of life," "competency as a pastor," etc. As stated in Paragraph 321 of the Discipline "A person on trial may be discontinued without any reflection on his character." In the light of these facts we must conclude that the Discipline confers upon an Annual Conference Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications broad discretionary powers in judging candidates for full membership in the Annual Conference and for ordination, and that such Board is given both the authority and the responsibility for recommending or declining to recommend such candidates on the basis of facts and information at its command. We further conclude that no basic right of a candidate who is on trial is being denied him by a decision of the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications that he should not be recommended for full membership in the Annual Conference.
It is the decision of the Judicial Council that an Annual Conference Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications may refuse to recommend for ordination or full connection in the Annual Conference a candidate who, in its judgment, has violated his ministerial vows, including the promise to abstain from the use of tobacco. It necessarily follows that the ruling of Bishop Watkins in this case must be and is hereby reversed.