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Decision No. 516

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October 29 1982
In Re: Validity of a Decision by a Central Conference to Grant an Annual Conference the Right of Decision to Accept "Headmanship" for a Ecumenical Church.

Digest of Case

With reference to Par. 11 of the Constitution and Par. 256.8 of the 1980 Discipline, absent anything in the Constitution and legislation of the Church to the contrary, a local United Methodist Church may unite with one or more churches of other denominations to form an ecumenical church and still be a part of the connectional system of The United Methodist Church. The Annual Conference may accept "Headmanship" for such a church provided that it retain the basic elements characteristic of a local United Methodist Church as stipulated by the Discipline. The church cannot adopt any of its own rules or statutes which conflict with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

Statement of Facts

Meeting in session March 25-29, 1981, the Northern Europe Central Conference, by majority vote, approved the following petition (translation): With reference to the Constitution Section I, par. 5, Article V and par. 250.8 in our Discipline, Scandinavian edition 1976, we move that the Central Conference grants the right to each Annual Conference to decide for itself to accept as an Annual Conference part of "headmanship" [see explanation] for an ecumenical church. The Swedish word "huvudmannaskap" here translated "headmanship" was interpreted to mean "the status and relationship of an 'umbrella' organization such as a Baptist Union, etc., in relation to the independent local churches which in some way are related to it, in other words, in a congregational church system." The action of the Central Conference was appealed to the Judicial Council by the College of Bishops of the Central Conference through Bishop Ole E. Borgen in a communication dated June 22, 1981. Included in the communication is a statement which gives background information pertaining to a particular local church, and two series of questions raised by the College of Bishops. Under date of September 17, 1981, a letter explaining that the situation was applicable to an increasing number of local churches, and signed by the presenters of the petition to the Central Conference, was sent to the Judicial Council. Background information discloses that a church originally organized as a local United Methodist Church has become a church in which members received as associate members from other denominations are now in the majority and that the church has sought and is seeking membership in other denominational bodies. Bishop Borgen appeared before the Judicial Council on October 28, 1982. He clarified the meaning of the Swedish word translated "headmanship", and stated that there is no difference between the Discipline of the Central and General Conference at the pertinent points. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Pars. 2608 and 2615 of the 1980 Discipline. ANALYSIS The questions raised in the appeal of the College of Bishops are: 1) Can aUnited Methodist local church unite or form a union with one or more churches of other denominations, forming a new ecumenical local church and still be a part of the connectional system of The United Methodist Church?; 2) If so, can such a body prescribe its own rules or statutes apart from the Discipline of The United Methodist Church? Par. 15, Article IV of the 1976 Discipline states: The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: 1. To define and fix the conditions, privileges, and duties of church membership... 2. To define and fix the powers and duties of elders, deacons, supply preachers, local preachers, exhorters, and deaconesses. 3. To define and fix the powers and duties of Annual Conferences, Provisional Annual Conferences, Missionary Conferences and Missions, and of Central Conferences, District Conferences, Charge Conferences, and Congregational Meetings. The Judicial Council has consistently said that legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional is confined to the General Conference. The Annual Conference is the basic body of the church and as such has reserved to it, among other rights, the right to discharge such duties and exercise such powers as the General Conference under the Constitution may determine (Constitution, Par. 37). The Constitution in Par. 48, mandates for each charge a Charge Conference composed of such persons and invested with such powers as the General Conference shall provide. Pars. 201-274 of the Discipline set forth relevant legislation based upon this constitutional provision. Especially apropos in the case at hand are Par. 203 which specifies that a local United Methodist Church must be subject to the church's Discipline; Par. 211.4 which requires loyalty to The United Methodist Church; and Pars. 244 and 245 which set forth the organization of a local church. Provided, therefore, that the basic disciplinary requirements are met, the Annual Conference (apart from any action by the Central Conference), may accept "Headmanship". Thus question one is answered. The answer to question two is given specifically in Par. 203 which specifies that the local church must be subject to the Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

Decision

With reference to Par. 11 of the Constitution and Par. 256.8 of the 1980 Discipline, absent anything in the Constitution and legislation of the Church to the contrary, a local United Methodist Church may unite with one or more churches of other denominations to form an ecumenical church and still be a part of the connectional system of The United Methodist Church. The Annual Conference may accept "Headmanship" for such a church provided that it retain the basic elements characteristic of a local United Methodist Church as stipulated by the Discipline. The church cannot adopt any of its own rules or statutes which conflict with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

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