Skip Navigation

Judicial Council Decisions Search


Decision No. 395

Back to Search

April 03 1975
In Re: Petition from the Executive Committee of the Africa Central Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Legality of That Conference's Action Calling for a Discussion in the Annual Conference of "Life Episcopacy" Without a Bishop Presiding.

Digest of Case

The action of the Africa Central Conference in ordering the Annual Conference "to engage in discussion, vote and tally of 'Life Episcopacy' in the absence of the presiding bishop and of any other bishop present at that conference and under the presidency of another person chosen by the conference" is in violation of the Constitution and specific statutes of the Church, and is therefore illegal and invalid.

Statement of Facts

In session on Saturday, September 2, 1972, the Africa Central Conference voted to accept a report from the Committee on Ministry, part IV of which report is entitled "Life Episcopacy." Section b) of said report reads: "At the session of Annual Conference immediately preceeding (sic) the Next Central Conference, there shall be held in each Annual Conference a discussion, vote and tally on the following question:-"Do we or do we not want life episcopacy in this Central Conference?" This discussion, vote and tally shall proceed in the absence of the presiding bishop and of any other bishop present at that Conference and under the presidency of another person chosen by the Conference." (Emphasis added) On October 31, 1974, the General Secretary of the Africa Central Conference addressed a request from the Executive Committee of the Conference to the Judicial Council, asking whether or not the action taken by the Central Conference is legal and valid. Subsequently, on January 16, 1975, the General Secretary submitted a second communication to the Judicial Council, explaining that the aforementioned request had come from the Executive Committee of the Central Conference rather than from the Central Conference itself; and that the request had come principally from the bishops themselves. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council assumes jurisdiction under Paragraph 1515.2 of the 1972 Discipline. ANALYSIS The basic issue in the instant case has specifically to do first, with the place of a bishop as a presiding officer in the Annual Conference; and second, with the powers of an Annual Conference in regard to its election of its presiding officer. With respect to the place of a bishop as a presiding officer in Annual Conference sessions the Discipline is emphatic and specific. Paragraph 57, Article VIII of the Constitution states: "The bishops of the severalJurisdictional and Central Conferences shall preside in the sessions of their respective conferences." And although the foregoing mandate does not make particular reference to the Annual Conference, corresponding legislation does do so. Thus Paragraph 390-Duties, Powers, And Limitations Of Bishops, Section 2, stipulates one of the duties of a bishop as being "To preside in the General, Jurisdictional, Central and Annual Conferences." With specfic reference to bishops in a Central Conference, Paragraph 399 .2, .3, provides for them within the bounds of their territories the same status, authority, rights, and duties as possessed by Jurisdictional bishops. Even more to the point is Paragraph 661.5 which treats of the Organization of the Annual Conference as it relates to a bishop as a presiding officer, as also to a power granted the Annual Conference with respect to electing its presiding officer. This paragraph and section read as follows: "The bishop assigned shall preside over the Annual Conference or, in case of inability, arrange for another bishop to preside. In the absence of a bishop the conference shall by ballot, without nomination or debate, elect a president pro tempore from among the traveling elders. The president thus elected shall discharge all the duties of a bishop except ordination." This Paragraph and section, while prescribing episcopal presidency, nevertheless make provisions for non-episcopal presidency in the absence of a bishop, namely a president chosen from among the traveling elders. On the other hand, the Discipline makes no provision for an Annual Conference to elect a presiding officer when a resident or duly assigned bishop is present. The action of the Africa Central Conference, in ordering that "discussion, vote and tally shall proceed in the absence of the presiding bishop and of any other bishop present at that conference and under the presidency of another person chosen by the conference" takes for granted that the presiding bishop is present; then improperly assumes that the Annual Conference has authority to effect the said bishop's absence albeit for only a period of discussion, and that even though the bishop is present as the presiding officer the Conference can elect a temporary substitute presiding officer of its choice. The above is not to suggest that a conference may not request or suggest that a bishop surrender the chair and absent himself during the discussion of and vote on particular issues. Further, a bishop may voluntarily surrender the chair and absent himself during the discussion of and vote on particular issues. In either event the conference may elect its presiding officer for the necessary period of time. (Par. 661.5)

Decision

The action of the Africa Central Conference in ordering each Annual Conference "to engage in discussion, vote and tally of 'Life Episcopacy' in the absence of the presiding bishop and of any other bishop present at that Conference and under the presidency of another person chosen by the Conference" is in violation of the Constitution and specific statutes of the Church, and is therefore illegal and invalid.

Back to Search