Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 207
April 30 1964
In Re: Request of the Lexington Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision Involving Paragraph 127 of the 1960 Discipline
Digest of Case
1. The Quarterly Conference has sole authority to determine whether or not members may be dropped from the membership roll of a local Methodist Church. 2. The "five year clause" in Paragraph 127 begins with the date the pastor and special committee initiates the process outlined, but in no case can it begin prior to May 7, 1960.
Statement of Facts
The Secretary of the Judicial Council received the following letter and transcript of proceedings of the Lexington Annual Conference, regarding Paragraph 127 of the 1960 Discipline, from Bishop M. W. Clair, Jr.: January 24, 1964 Dr. A. Wesley Pugh 401 West Bougainvillea Lehigh Acres, Florida "Dear Dr. Pugh: "The Journal of the 1963 session of the Lexington Annual Conference has just come off the press. "I have been requested by the Conference to seek a Judicial Council decision on a matter which arose at that session. Journal reference to this matter can be found on pages 27-28, under the 'Report of the Conference Statistician.' I am enclosing a transcript of the proceedings in this matter. "With every good wish to you, I am Cordially yours, (s) M. W. Clair, Jr. M. W. CLAIR, JR." MWC jr:scenclosure LEXINGTON ANNUAL CONFERENCE in session Gorham Methodist Church Indianapolis, Indiana "Saturday afternoon, May 18, 1963 Presiding, Bishop M. W. Clair, Jr. "REPORT OF THE CONFERENCE STATISTICIAN: Report read by C. M. Harris. "Questions arose regarding the termination of names on the membership roll. Does the Annual Conference or the Quarterly Conference have the final authority on whether or not persons can be dropped after the church has followed the procedures as outlined in THE DISCIPLINE? And, an interpretation of the 'five year clause' as found in THE DISCIPLINE was requested. "The Chair felt that 1960 began the five year period. "St. Mark Methodist Church (Chicago, Illinois) in its Fourth Quarterly Conference, April 29, 1963, recommended, after complying with paragraph 127 of the 1960 DISCIPLINE, that 875 members be dropped from the membership roll. "Since it was the interpretation of the Chair and the Conference that the legislation of paragraph 127 only became effective with the adjournment of the 1960 General Conference, and a five year period has not lapsed, the members were not dropped from the statistical record of the Conference. "Upon motion of D. P. Young, properly seconded, the Conference voted to have the Bishop seek a Judicial Council opinion on this action since St. Mark Church questioned the authority of the Conference. Motion carried." JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction in this matter under the provisions of Paragraph 914.8 of the 1960 Discipline. ANALYSIS This request for a declaratory decision coming from the Lexington Annual Conference presents for our consideration two questions, namely: (1) Is it the Annual Conference or the Quarterly Conference which has the final authority to remove names from the membership roll of a local church under the procedures set forth in Paragraph 127 of the 1960 Discipline? (2) What is the proper interpretation of the "five year clause" as contained in Paragraph 127 of the 1960 Discipline? The record reveals the bishop ruled that Paragraph 127 became effective at the adjournment of the 1960 General Conference. Therefore, he concluded the action of Saint Mark Methodist Church on April 29, 1963, in its Fourth Quarterly Conference, dropping 875 members from the membership roll, was in violation of Paragraph 127 rather than in compliance with it. Thus, since the required period of time had not elapsed, the 875 members were not dropped from the statistical record of the Lexington Annual Conference. Part II of the 1960 Discipline deals with "The Local Church" and Chapter II specifically with church membership. Paragraph 105 defines church membership and indicates that "A member of a local Methodist Church is a member of The Methodist Church." Conditions for admission, transfer or withdrawal of a member and actions of the Quarterly Conference regarding membership are set forth in this context. The 1960 General Conference made significant changes in the law of The Methodist Church with regard to the authority of the Quarterly Conference in removing the names of members from a local church membership roll. In fact, a new section of law entitled the "Care of Church Members" was enacted which clearly outlines the duty and responsibility of the pastor and of the Commission on Membership and Evangelism. Also, the Commission on Membership and Evangelism, in Paragraph 222.9, was given the specific duty "To create a special committee whose duty shall be to do all in its power to re-enlist in the active fellowship of the church all members who are negligent in attending worship or in participating in the church's life and work." Paragraph 127, contained in the section on "Care of Church Members," describes the conditions which must be met by the pastor, the special committee, referred to above, and the Commission on Membership and Evangelism before the Quarterly Conference may remove the name of a member from the local church membership roll. Pertinent sections of Paragraph 127 are quoted: "127.1...... if after five years of serious cultivation by the committee he continues to absent himself from the worship of the church and refuses to support the church, his name may be removed . . ." "127.3...... if after two years of such efforts his address is still unknown, his name may be removed from the membership roll. . ." "127.5 If the directives of 127.1, 127.2, or 127.3 above have been followed for the specified number of years without success, the member's name may be removed from the membership roll by vote of the Quarterly Conference on recommendation of the pastor and the Commission on Membership and Evangelism, each name being considered individually. On the roll there shall be entered after his name: 'Removed by order of the Quarterly Conference'; and if theaction is on the basis of 127.3, there shall be added: 'Reason: addressunknown.' The membership of the person shall thereby be terminated, and the record thereof shall be retained; provided that at his request he may be restored to membership by recommendation of the pastor; and provided, further, that should a transfer of his membership be requested, the pastor may restore him to membership for this purpose and issue the certificate of transfer." Chapter VIII, Part IV, 1960 Discipline, contains sections dealing with the Composition and Character, Organization, Powers and Duties, The Business of the Conference, Records and Archives, and Conference Agencies of an Annual Conference in The Methodist Church. Membership in a local church is not dealt with in any of these sections. However, the statistical report of the Annual Conference includes the membership reported by all local churches of the Conference. From the above it is evident that the Quarterly Conference has final authority in determining whether or not persons can be dropped from the membership roll of a local church. According to Rule 38 of the General Conference "all actions of the General Conference of The Methodist Church shall become effective upon the final adjournment of the session of the General Conference at which they were enacted, except as provided in Paragraph 575 of the Discipline." Since the provisions of Paragraph 127 became effective at the close of the 1960 General Conference, May 7, 1960, the five year period set forth in Paragraph 127.1 and 127.2 had not elapsed by April 29, 1963. Therefore, the president of the Lexington Annual Conference was correct in ruling "that 1960 began the five year period." It should be observed, however, that the record in this case does not indicate which of the provisions in Paragraph 127 were applied by the Saint Mark Methodist Quarterly Conference in dropping 875 members from the membership roll. In the event some of the members were removed in accord with Paragraph 127.3 the action was legal as to the time element, but any action taken under the provisions of 127.1 and 127.2 was in conflict with specific authority delegated to the Quarterly Conference and thus illegal.
It is therefore the decision of the Judicial Council: 1. That the Quarterly Conference is given the specific and final authority of determining whether or not members may be dropped from the membership roll of a local church in accord with the provisions of Paragraph 127, 1960 Discipline. 2. That the "five year clause" specified in Paragraph 127 begins with the date the pastor and the special committee of the Commission on Membership and Evangelism initiate the process outlined in Paragraph 127, but in no case can it begin prior to May 7, 1960.