Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 415
October 29 1976
In Re: Ruling of Bishop Jack M. Tuell in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference on the Constitutionality of an Annual Conference Placing Lay Observers on the Board of Ordained Ministry.
Digest of Case
An Annual Conference may not name lay persons as members of the Board of Ordained Ministry but may designate lay observers to the Board in a non-voting consultative capacity. The Board, either on its own initiative or upon the request of a person appearing before it, may declare an executive session from which the observers would be excluded.
Statement of Facts
At the 1975 session of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference a petition was submitted to permit the Annual Conference to elect at least one person from each District to serve " . . . as a Lay Observer to the Board of the Ministry. Would not have vote, but otherwise serve as full member." Although the petition was passed, a later motion directed that it be prepared as a petition to the General Conference. In view of the referral to the General Conference, no action was taken to elect lay observers to the Board of Ordained Ministry. The petition appeared on the General Conference calendar as Calendar Item #885 on page 587 of the Daily Christian Advocate. Because the committee to which the petition had been referred, the Committee on Higher Education and Ministry, voted non-concurrence unanimously, the matter did not come to a vote on the floor of the Conference. Another petition which would have authorized election of lay members to the Board of Ordained Ministry was recommended for concurrence by the Committee on Independent Commissions (46-6-Calendar #296) but tabled until the Committee on Higher Education and Ministry could also consider it (DCA 829) and did not come back to the floor. During the 1976 session of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference in Salem, Oregon five lay persons, one representing each of the five districts, were nominated and elected as "lay observers, without vote, to the Board of the Ministry." At this point, the Rev. Stuart R. Shaw requested in writing a ruling on the following question: "Can the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference place Lay Observers, nominated by the Conference Nominating Committee, on the Board of Ministry as non-voting members for the 1976-80 quadrennium, in view of Judicial Council decision No. 409 declaring paragraph 665.1 of the 1972 Discipline unconstitutional,?" Bishop Tuell ruled: "Judicial Council Decision 409 does not render unconstitutional the action of the Oregon-Idaho Conference providing for lay observers to the Board of the Ministry provided that: 1. Such lay observers are non-voting and serve only in a consultative character. 2. That any minister or ministerial candidate who so requests, may have his/her case considered and interviews conducted by the regular members of the board without the presence of the lay observers. "Para. 37 of the Constitution appears only to prohibit voting on matters of ordination, character and conference relations of ministers. "Furthermore, the action taken by the Oregon-Idaho Conference establishing lay observers was not taken under the provisions of Para. 665.1, but was a separate action. "Protection of the rights of individual ministers and ministerial candidates would appear to require a provision such as that set out in (2) above." JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 2512 of the Discipline . ANALYSIS Decision 409 of the Judicial Council has no bearing on the case at hand. That decision dealt with the authority of annual conferences under Paragraph 665.1 of the 1972 Discipline to provide alternate means of carrying out functions and duties assigned by the General Conference to specific agencies. That Paragraph was superseded by Paragraph 705.1 of the 1976 Discipline which we discussed in Decision 411. The action here questioned, however, in no way affects the functions or duties of the Board of Ordained Ministry. Under Paragraph 37 of the Constitution the Annual Conference is the basic body in the church and is essentially free to make its own decisions, subject to the provisions of the Constitution and legislation adopted by the General Conference under its legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional as provided in Paragraph 15. We find nothing in the Constitution or in General Conference legislation restricting the right of an Annual Conference, if it chooses, to select lay observers to meet with its Board of Ordained Ministry in a consultative capacity. Paragraph 37 of the Constitution holds the Annual Conference, both ministerial and lay members, responsible for the total work of the Annual Conference, with the expressed exception, " . . . that the lay members may not vote on matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of ministers." This clearly indicates an intent to include lay members in matters ministerial, but without the right to vote on such matters. In Decision 42 this Council recognized the right of lay members of an Annual Conference to participate in an open session wherein "inquiries shall be made as to whether all the ministerial members of the Conference are blameless in their life and official administration." It is to be noted that, as originally asked in 1975, the question was can there be lay observers . . ." as non-voting members." Paragraph 731 is clear that the Board to be created under its provisions is to be composed of ministers in full connection. This is in keeping with the very title of the Board. It would appear that members of the Board of Ordained Ministry must not only be ministers in full connection, but must be nominated and elected in accordance with the provisions of Paragraph 731. Further, the Discipline is replete with instances where membership on various boards, divisions and committees is spelled out as to the number of ministerial members and the number of lay members. It must be conceded therefore that, in the absence of provision for lay persons, the intent of Paragraph 731 was to limit membership to ministerial members. Thus, while it is our opinion that lay observers are permissible, they are not members of the Board of Ordained Ministry and, of course, they have no vote either on matters, " . . . of ordination, character, and conference relations of ministers," or other business coming before the Board. Absent any constitutional or disciplinary provision, an Annual Conference has the authority to determine whether or not its own meetings, or those of any of its boards or committees should be open or closed, and if the Annual Conference has taken no action the boards and committees would have the right to conduct their own meetings in whichever way they might deem best. There does not appear to be any basis for Paragraph 2 of Bishop Tuell's ruling that provides "that any minister or ministerial candidate may have his/her case considered without the presence of the lay observers" as a matter of right. It does appear, however, especially since Paragraph 731 (g) permits the Board of Ordained Ministry to withhold information from the executive session of the Annual Conference, that, absent any contrary requirement by the Annual Conference, the Board might properly declare itself in closed session and permit only members at such times as matters of a sensitive nature might be before the Board.
An Annual Conference may place lay observers on the Board of Ordained Ministry in a non-voting capacity. The Board, either on its own initiative or upon the request of a person appearing before the Board, may declare a closed or executive session from which the observers would be excluded.