Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 448
October 26 1978
In Re: Right of Missionary Conferences to Ordain Ministers and forms of Ministerial Membership of Missionary Conferences.
Digest of Case
Paragraph 37 of the Constitution reserves to the Annual Conference the right to vote on ordination of ministers. The General Conference therefore could not deny an Annual Conference that right, but there is no constitutional prohibition against granting such right to Missionary Conferences. Par. 681 of the 1976 Discipline grants to a Missionary Conference the same rights and powers as an Annual Conference with specified exceptions. Ordination of ministers is a right and power of an Annual Conference. It is not one of the specified exceptions. Therefore a Missionary Conference has the right to ordain ministers. Par. 691.4 in providing for an affiliated relationship to a Missionary Conference for a minister in full connection with an Annual Conference who is appointed as a missionary to a Missionary Conference does not provide the only form of ministerial membership of such conference.
Statement of Facts
The Council of Bishops petitioned the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the following questions: "Does Par. 691.4 of the 1976 Discipline providing for an 'affiliated relationship with the Missionary Conference' provide the exclusive and only way in which persons may be ministerial members of a Missionary Conference? Is Par. 691 which purports to give Missionary Conferences the right to ordain (by removing the prohibition on ordination from the 1972 Discipline) constitutional in light of Par. 37, Constitution of The United Methodist Church?" We felt these matters of such great importance to the Missionary Conferences that, as set forth in Memorandum No. 437, in our April, 1978 session we held the matter on our Docket for consideration in the October session, and sent copies of the petition and that Memorandum to the bishops, conference superintendents and secretaries of the Missionary conferences to enable them to submit information and statements either in writing or in person. We have received a statement from the Superintendent of the Alaska Missionary Conference reporting that a consultation of representatives of Missionary Conferences has assumed that Missionary Conferences have the right to ordain. Bishop Tuell has advised us that to the best of his knowledge the Alaska Missionary Conference has never ordained ministers. At the open hearing we conducted in Denver on October 26 he made a statement representing the Council of Bishops. Bishop Robertson has advised us that, while it is his understanding that the Red Bird Mission Conference of the Evangelical United Brethren Church under the law of that Church had authority to ordain, to the best of his knowledge that power was not exercised, nor has the Red Bird Missionary Conference of The United Methodist Church ordained ministers. Through Bishop Milhouse of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference we received a list designated as the roll of the Ministry of the conference. It lists 81 elders including 4 affiliated members with date of each ordination plus 7 shown as full members of the conference with date of ordination as deacon, but not showing the date of ordination as elder. Besides these 88 full members, the roll shows 33 deacons, in each case giving the date of ordination. We assume that those whose date of ordination is shown as prior to 1968 were ordained by the Indian Mission of The Methodist Church, those with dates between 1968 and 1972 by the Oklahoma Indian Mission of The United Methodist Church and those since 1972 by the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. There are quite a number in each of these three categories. With respect to Red Bird, the 1977 General Minutes show 14 elders under appointment. Twelve of them appear to be members of Annual Conferences. Seventeen elders are shown under appointment in the Alaska Missionary Conference and all of them appear to be members of various Annual Conferences. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2515.2(b) of the 1976 Discipline. ANALYSIS There has long been uncertainty and lack of clarity as to the structure and power of Provisional Annual Conferences, Missionary Conferences and Missions, particularly with respect to ordination and membership. In The Methodist Church, Par. 22 of the Constitution was identical, except for insignificant differences in punctuation and capitalization, with Par. 37 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church which reads: "The Annual Conference is the basic body in the Church and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments, on the election of ministerial and lay delegates to the General and the Jurisdictional or Central Conferences, on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members, and on the ordination of ministers and such other rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution, . . ." In Par. 47 of the Constitution of The Methodist Church Amendments II, IV, VII and VIII provided for election of lay and ministerial delegates to Central and Jurisdictional Conferences by Mission Conferences, later called Provisional Annual Conferences. We do not find in the 1964 Discipline of The Methodist Church specific provision for ordination and admission into membership by Provisional Annual Conferences or Missions, but Par. 333 appeared to assume Provisional Annual Conferences had such rights. It is our understanding that such powers were exercised by Provisional Annual Conferences in the Methodist Church before Union in 1968 and in The United Methodist Church since that time. Par. 385 of the 1964 Discipline of The Methodist Church provided for membership of mission travelling preachers, deacons, or elders, in a Mission without being a member of an Annual Conference. The paragraph did not speak directly of ordination, but clearly implied that a Mission could ordain and elect to membership. In the Constitution of the Evangelical United Brethren Church there was no provision comparable to Par. 22 of the Constitution of The Methodist Church, but Par. 139 provided: "A mission conference in North America shall be constituted and organized in the same manner and with the same rights and powers as an Annual Conference, but with the following exceptions:" (Four exceptions are listed, none of them relating to ordination or membership.) Par. 144 of the Constitution of the Evangelical United Brethren Church stated: "A Missionary conference in North America shall be constituted and organized in the same manner and with the same rights and powers of an annual or mission conference, with the following exceptions:" (Four exceptions are listed. The first three are not relevant to the present issue.) The fourth exception to Par. 144 is pertinent. It says: "A minister serving in a missionary conference shall not be required to transfer his membership to the missionary conference. (See Par. 130 (3).) If he desires to retain membership in his own conference, he shall have this privilege and shall be classifed as a missionary." It would thus appear that the Red Bird Mission Conference of the Evangelical United Brethren Church had authority to ordain ministers and that it was authorized to have its own membership. Par. 10 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church provides for Provisional Annual Conferences. Par. 14 provides that a Provisional Annual Conference, not part of a Central Conference or Provisional Central Conference, is entitled to at least one ministerial and one lay delegate in the General Conference. Par. 15 of the Constitution authorizes the General Conference ". . to define and fix the powers and duties of Annual Conferences, Provisional Annual Conferences, Missionary Conferences and Missions,. . ." Par. 24 of the Constitution provides that Jurisdictional Conferences are composed of delegates elected by the Annual Conferences and the Provisional Annual Conferences. Pars. 39 and 40 provide for election by ministerial and lay members of Provisional Annual Conferences, of ministerial and lay delegates to the General Conference and to Jurisdictional or Central Conferences. Par. 64 of the Constitution provides that amendments to the Constitution are made by vote of the General Conference and vote of the members of the several Annual Conferences. By action of the 1976 General Conference and the subsequent vote in the Annual Conferences, Pars. 12 and 22 of the Constitution have been amended so that the Missionary Conferences are now authorized to elect delegates to the General Conference and the Jurisdictional Conferences. The 1968 Discipline, adopted at the time of Union, provided in Par. 656: "A Missionary Conference shall be organized in the same manner and with the same rights and powers as an Annual Conference (Par 660-62), but with the following exceptions: ... 3. A Missionary Conference is not entitled to elect delegates to General, Jurisdictional, Central or Provisional Central Conferences or to ministerial orders." Par. 658 of the 1968 Discipline read: " . . . The Oklahoma Indian Mission shall have the same right as that given to Central Conferences in Par. 631.9-. 10 to make such changes and adaptations regarding the ministry and ordination of ministers as the effective use of indigenous leadership in the mission may require; provided that no action shall be taken which is contrary to the Constitution and the General Rules of The United Methodist Church. Any such ordination would be effective only within the bounds of the Indian Mission." Par. 1136 of the 1968 Discipline read: " . . . 2. The mission shall meet annually and shall be composed of the all regularly appointed missionaries, both lay and clerical, mission travelling preachers, and other lay members ........ 5. Examinations of lay pastors and travelling preachers shall be held by the Mission and certified to an Annual Conference. The Mission also shall make recommendations for reception on trial in an Annual Conference." From 1968 to 1972 Red Bird was the only Missionary Conference. By reason of Par. 656.3 of the 1968 and 1972 Disciplines, it did not have authority to ordain and our information is that it did not do so. In 1968 there were two Missions, Alaska and Oklahoma Indian. So far as we know, Alaska has not as yet ordained ministers. Oklahoma Indian has done so pursuant to the implied authority granted by Par. 658. The 1972 General Conference constituted the former Alaska Mission and Oklahoma Indian Mission as Missionary Conferences (DCA 583, 888). In the same action the General Conference specifically amended Par. 657, which had given the Oklahoma Indian Mission authority to make adaptations regarding ministry and ordination, so that the same authority was given to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. At the same time, the 1972 General Conference amended Par. 656.3, renumbered 655.3, to permit Missions and Missionary Conferences to elect one minister and one lay person as delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conference with voice but not vote, while retaining the provision that such conferences might not grant ministerial orders. Hence, under the 1972 Discipline Par. 655.3 denied Missionary Conferences the right to ordain while at the same time renumbered Par. 657, by clear implication, granted such right to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. Under the 1972 Discipline, therefore neither Red Bird nor Alaska had authority to ordain and so far as we know did not do so. With respect to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, however, under the familiar principle of legislative interpretation, the specific affirmative grant of Par. 657 overcame the general denial of Par. 655.3 and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference had authority to ordain. Our information indicates that they used that power. In our April 1975 session we had before us a petition from the Iowa Annual Conference questioning the validity of the limitation of the effectiveness of ordination by the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, set forth in the last sentence of Par. 657. We then commented in Memorandum No. 393 on the lack of precision in legislation relating to Missions and Missionary Conferences saying: "We are aware of a widespread concern in the Church about the relationships of ethnic minorities in the Church. We have examined the provisions of the Discipline concerning a Mission and a Missionary Conference and find many ambiguities and contradictions when one tries to find the answers to some basic questions. What constitutes membership in a Mission or a Missionary Conference? The General Minutes state that 'Mission Conferences do not have ministerial members'. Some provisions of the Discipline seem to agree with that. Others seem to assume ministerial and lay membership and rights of reception on trial and ordination. What are their powers of ordination, if any, and what is the relationship of such ministerial membership and ordination to the ministerial membership of Annual Conferences in a connectional Church? The questions are many, and they are important, and they deserve careful answers." We also pointed to Decision No. 313 (318 and 325 are to the same effect, but see 316 and 440). The Memorandum indicates some uncertainty as to whether the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference had ordination powers, but that question was not answered. We expressed our hope that we would receive far more background information and that the 1976 General Conference might act to clarify the situation. Hence, the petition of the Iowa Conference was retained on the docket. The 1976 General Conference did act specifically to eliminate the limitation on the effectiveness of ordination by the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. The last sentence of Par. 657, which is renumbered 693 in the 1976 Discipline, was deleted. It was expressly called to the attention of the General Conference that the purpose of the deletion was to make those ordained by the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference eligible for transfer to other conferences. (DCA 712, 713). The specific question raised by the Iowa Annual Conference thus became moot, as is noted in our Memorandum No. 414. The 1976 General Conference also clearly expressed its intention that all Missionary Conferences should have the power to grant ministerial orders. Par. 655.3 of the 1972 Discipline was amended, and it was specifically called to the attention of the Conference that this involved the deletion of the last sentence which had read: "such conferences may not grant ministerial orders." (DCA 712). Hence, that restriction does not appear in the paragraph that has now been renumbered 691 in the 1976 Discipline. In fact, the General Conference acted twice to delete the restriction. Report No. 77 of the Committee on Conferences made such a change and also included amendment of no less than 7 paragraphs of the Constitution in order to give Missionary Conferences the right to elect voting delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Subsequently, the General Conference also adopted Report No. 73 of the Committee on Conferences which consisted only of the deletion of the sentence restricting such conferences from granting ministerial orders. (DCA 368, 712). The present situation, therefore, is that the General Conference of 1976 clearly and intentionally authorized Missionary Conferences to ordain. The Discipline now gives Missionary Conferences the powers of Annual Conferences subject to listed exceptions not here pertinent. The former statement that Missionary Conferences may not grant ministerial orders has been unmistakably eliminated. The former limitation on the effectiveness of ordination by the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference has been intentionally removed. The remaining question is whether the General Conference has the constitutional power to authorize Missionary Conferences to ordain. The only possible constitutional bar is the portion of Par. 37 which says the Annual Conference ". . . shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments, on the election of ministerial and lay delegates to the General and the Jurisdictional or Central Conferences, on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members, and on the ordination of ministers...." The effect of that section is that the Annual Conference may not be denied these fundamental rights. It does not say that the Annual Conference shall have reserved to it the exclusive rights to vote, etc. It did not have such exclusive rights in either the Evangelical United Brethren Church or in The Methodist Church at the time of Union and has never had such exclusive rights in The United Methodist Church. The right of the Annual Conference to vote on all constitutional amendments is not exclusive. The General Conference also has that right pursuant to Par. 64 of the Constitution. The Annual Conference does not have the exclusive right to vote on the election of ministerial and lay delegates to the General Conference. Provisional Annual Conferences, not part of a Central Conference or Provisional Central Conference, also have that right pursuant to Par. 10 of the Constitution. The Annual Conference does not have the exclusive right to vote on the election of ministerial and lay delegates to the Jurisdictional or Central Conferences. Provisional Annual Conferences have such rights under Pars. 24, 39 and 40 of the Constitution and Par. 651 of the Discipline. Since the recent amendments to Pars. 12 and 22 of the Constitution, the Missionary Conferences also have the right to vote on delegates to General Conference and the Jurisdictional Conferences. Decisions Nos. 5 and 6 of the Judicial Council of The Methodist Church dealt with a significantly different question. The 1939 General Conference sought to provide for election by Mission Conferences of delegates to Jurisdictional and Central Conferences. The Judicial Council held such legislation invalid. Decision No. 5 pointed to Par. 22 of the Constitution, the predecessor of present Par. 37. The dispositive factor as we see it, however, is that Pars. 11, 13 and 17 then provided that the Jurisdictional and Central Conferences should be composed of representatives of the Annual Conferences and elected by them. The Statements of Facts in Nos. 5 and 6 refer to Pars. 13 and 17. In our view it was those paragraphs that then prevented Mission Conferences, the predecessors of Provisional Annual Conferences, from having membership in the Jurisdictional and Central Conferences. Such restrictions were subsequently removed from the Constitution of The Methodist Church by amendment II in 1943 as to the Central Conferences and by amendment IV in 1952 as to the Jurisdictional Conferences. If our Constitution contained a provision such as, "ministers shall be ordained by Annual Conferences" we would have a far more comparable situation and might be constrained to hold such to be the exclusive authority to ordain. What we have, though, is a provision that a number of rights are reserved to the Annual Conferences. Such rights of the Annual Conferences must be protected and cannot be taken from them, but such rights have not been exclusive and have also been exercised by other bodies as hereinbefore discussed. Prior to Union in 1968 there was no restriction in the law of the Evangelical United Brethren Church on ordination by Mission Conferences. In The Methodist Church Provisional Annual Conferences were authorized to ordain under Par. 333 of the Discipline. We find nothing in the legislative history to suggest that when Par. 22 of the Constitution of The Methodist Church was carried over into the Constitution of The United Methodist Church as Par. 37 there was any intention of making ordination an exclusive right of an Annual Conference when it had not been so in either of the uniting churches. We therefore find no constitutional provision preventing the General Conference from authorizing Missionary Conferences to ordain ministers, as the General Conference so clearly has done. The foregoing analysis essentially answers the second question as to whether an affiliated relationship is the only way in which persons may be ministerial members of a Missionary Conference. The answer is no. There is no constitutional or disciplinary reason why Missionary Conferences may not have members who are neither in the affiliated relationship nor members of Annual Conferences.
The Missionary Conferences have the same right as Annual Conferences to ordain ministers. The affiliated relationship with a Missionary Conference authorized by Par. 691.4 is not the only way in which one may be a ministerial member of a Missionary Conference, but it is a way in which a ministerial member of an Annual Conference, appointed as a missionary to a Missionary Conference, may have the rights of membership in that Missionary Conference so long as appointed to it as a missionary.