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Decision No. 344

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October 06 1971
In Re: Ruling of Bishop W. Maynard Sparks on Action of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference in Electing to Full Connection and Elder's Orders a Candidate without the Recommendation of the Board of the Ministry.

Digest of Case

An Annual Conference is within its prerogatives and disciplinary power when it over-rules a recommendation of its Board of the Ministry concerning full connection and elder's orders in that conference.

Statement of Facts

On June 4. 1971, at the session of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, Herschel Laron Hall, whose period of probationary membership in the conference had covered the "eighth regular annual conference session" and therefore could no longer be elected to "continuance as a probationary member," was not recommended by the Board of the Ministry for election to full connection and elder's orders. Following a disclosure of documentation provided by the Board of the Ministry, but without the board's recommendation, the ministerial members voted Mr. Hall into full connection in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. Three days later, upon request, the presiding bishop ruled that "an action of the parent body (i.e. ministerial members in full connection) is valid though the Board of the Ministry has not provided such a proposal." The ruling was challenged in the conference, and referred to the Judicial Council by Bishop Sparks as of June 23, 1971. JURISDICTION Jurisdiction is accepted under Paragraph 1712 of the Discipline. ANALYSIS In order for a person to be admitted into membership in full connection in an Annual Conference, he must satisfy the requirements of Paragraph 333 which states in part: "A candidate who has been a probationary member for at least two years may be admitted into membership in full connection in an Annual Conference by vote of the ministerial members in full connection, on recommendation of the Board of the Ministry, after he has qualified as follows. He shall have (1) served full-time under episcopal appointment under the supervision of a district superintendent satisfactorily to the Board of the Ministry in one of the positions specified in Paragraph 391.1-6 for one year following the completion of the educational requirements specified in par. 3 below: (2) been previously ordained deacon... (3) met educational requirements..... in either of the following ways: (a) graduation with a Bachelor of Divinity or equivalent degree from a school of theology accredited or approved by the University Senate or (b) ... (4) satisfied the board regarding his physical, mental, and emotional health; (5) prepared at least one written sermon on a specified biblical passage and given satisfactory answers in a written doctrinal examination administered by the Board of the Ministry. . . ." The records of the Oregon-Idaho Conference Board of the Ministry reveal that Herschel Laron Hall, age 31, was admitted on trial into Oregon Conference on June 5, 1963. He was ordained deacon on June 7, 1963. On May 22, 1971, he applied for full connection and ordination as elder in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. On May 30, 1971, the Board of the Ministry by a vote of 13 to 2 (one abstention) refused to make this recommendation. On June 1, 1971, the executive session took action to admit him without the recommendation of the Board of the Ministry. He was ordained elder on June 4, 1971. The responsibility of the Judicial Council is not to determine whether or not Mr. Hall was fully qualified for this election in terms of the disciplinary requirements other than the recommendation of the Board of the Ministry. The question here to be decided is whether or not an Annual Conference executive session may vote to admit a person to full membership without the favorable recommendation of its Board of the Ministry. A decision here must take into consideration the following: 1. Paragraph 665.15 states "The Board (of the Ministry) shall be directly amenable to the Annual Conference for its actions." 2. The Discipline requires recommendation by the Board of the Ministry for all candidates for conference relationship: associate membership (Par. 323), probationary membership (Par. 325, 326) and full membership (Par. 333). 3. An Annual Conference may not place final authority for admission in the Board of the Ministry. (cf. Judicial Council Decision No. 316.) 4. As the final voting authority, the Annual Conference may determine not to accept the recommendation of the Board of the Ministry in a particular case. 5. No Annual Conference is competent to suspend the disciplinary rules with regard to ministerial qualifications in order to admit a candidate to full membership, any more than a Board of the Ministry may recommend a candidate who clearly has not qualified according to the conditions of Paragraph 333. Additional consideration in this case must recognize the following: 1. The action of the board not to recommend Mr. Hall to full membership was based, according to its record, on his failure to qualify at two points required by Paragraph 333. (a) He did not in fact possess a diploma for the B.D. degree or its equivalent at the time the conference considered his case. He had been elected to the degree by Claremont School of Theology. On May 27, 1971, the registrar of the school notified the board, "I am happy to advise you that Herschel Laron Hall has fulfilled our requirements for completion of the Master of Theology degree and may expect to receive the degree at the Spring Commencement, June 5, 1971 (note: 4 days after the conference action admitting him) provided his account with the School is paid in full at that time." On June 1, 1971, before the executive session was held, the school advised by phone that the accounts were paid. (b) He had not "served full time under episcopal appointment under the supervision of a district superintendent . . . for one year following the completion of educational requirements." 2. The action of the conference in admitting Mr. Hall and the subsequent ruling by Bishop Sparks were predicated on the assumption stated by the bishop: "With the candidate's divinity degree from the School of Theology, Claremont, in readiness for bestowal four days after full membership was voted and with four consecutive years of full time service under episcopal appointment under the supervision of a district superintendent, it was the judgment of the chair that the one voted into full connection met these requirements in the spirit of the Book of Discipline though timewise his full membership was voted four days prior to his graduation and subsequent to service under a district superintendent." In regard to the issue of educational qualification in the instant case, the candidate had completed all requirements for the Th.M. degree, had been elected to the degree by the faculty and trustees of the Claremont School of Theology, and awaited only the ceremony of conferring the degree on June 5, 1971. A "diploma" is not the only evidence of completion of the educational requirements and entitlement to the degree. It is not, in fact, the primary or legal evidence. The primary and legal evidence of completion and entitlement is the official record of the registrar of the granting institution. In light of the information available to the Annual Conference on June 1, 1971, where the vote was taken on Mr. Hall, it can safely be assumed he had met the necessary educational requirements for elder's orders and full membership. The second qualification cited by the Board of the Ministry as being unmet by Mr. Hall was that of serving "full-time under episcopal appointment ... for one year following the completion of the educational requirements" specified in Paragraph 333 (3). However, Paragraph 333 (2), states "provided that until July 1, 1971, subparagraphs 1 and 2 above shall not apply to seminary students who have completed one-fourth of the work required for the Bachelor of Divinity or the equivalent first professional degree by July 1, 1968." The records show that Laron Hall matriculated at Claremont in 1962, completed his residency and course work for the degree in the spring of 1967. Thus he had indeed completed "one-fourth of the work required" before July 1, 1968. Furthermore, since he had been "admitted on trial" June 5, 1963, the disciplinary requirements applicable to him (1960, 1964 Discipline) call for two years of service under episcopal appointment during his probationary membership as the means of fulfilling that part of his preparation for reception into full membership. Mr. Hall served four years at West Springfield during this period and therefore fulfilled the disciplinary requirements which adhered to his case. The Discipline has placed the responsibility for determining who may be elected to conference membership with the Annual Conference "by vote of the ministerial members in full connection, on recommendation of the Board of the Ministry." The Discipline has provided how the Board of the Ministry shall be elected and has defined its functions. However, the Discipline clearly reserves to the Annual Conference the final decision on any and all recommendations of the board. Implicit in the disciplinary requirements (Par. 333) is the necessity for all candidates for conference relationship first to meet the board, be processed by its administration through the required steps into that relationship. The responsibility of the board for this process ceases when it brings its recommendation to the Annual Conference. The conference may vote to accept, to change, or to reject such recommendation. However, recourse by the Annual Conference to action contrary to or in lieu of board action in not recommending a person for full connection, provides no leave to ignore or fail to deal carefully itself with the fundamental questions which are the responsibility of the Board of the Ministry under Paragraph 333. If the Annual Conference acts contrary to the board's recommendation, it obligates itself to investigate fully the existence of the qualifying facts enumerated in Paragraph 333. While the Annual Conference is the basic unit of the church's connectional system on issues on which the General Conference has legislated, that legislation is the controlling factor and may not with impunity be sidestepped or denied in over-riding the recommendations of the Board of the Ministry. In the case of the Oregon-Idaho Conference, Mr. Hall was not recommended by the board for full membership for the two reasons: no B.D. degree; and no oneyear of full time service as pastor after completing the educational qualifications. It is to be assumed that the other qualifications required in Paragraph 333 were met. Since, under the disciplinary questions, it was necessary for the board to report its action in discontinuing Mr. Hall on trial, this properly placed his name before the conference session for action. The Annual Conference entertained a substitute motion for his admission to full membership and election to elder's orders. This action was in order both from the standpoint of disciplinary requirements and parliamentary procedure. The ministerial members of the conference were legally competent to vote for Mr. Hall's admission even though such action had not been the recommendation of the Board of the Ministry.

Decision

The Judicial Council approves the "decision of law" made by Bishop W. Maynard Sparks at the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference on June 4, 1971.

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