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Decision No. 517

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October 29 1982
In Re: The Responsibility For Fixing Boundaries of Episcopal Areas as Part of the Plan of Episcopal Supervision of Annual Conferences in Light of Apparent Conflicts Among 1980 Discipline Pars. 53, 507 and 622.3(b).

Digest of Case

Par. 622.3(b) is constitutional. Par. 507.1 is unconstitutional to the extent that it authorizes fixing of boundaries of episcopal areas by final action of the Jurisdictional Conference. This power is reserved to the bishops as part of the episcopal administration under Par. 53 of the Constitution.

Statement of Facts

At the April 1982 session of the Council of Bishops, it was voted to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council with reference to the constitutionality of Par. 622.3(b) in light of Par. 53 of the Constitution and Judicial Council Decision No. 57. For many years the Constitution has had a provision that the Jurisdictional College of Bishops shall "arrange the plan of episcopal supervision of the annual conferences, mission conferences and missions within their respective territories". This was in Par. 37 of the Constitution in the 1964 Discipline. Par. 440 (1964) provided that "the bishops of the jurisdiction shall fix the boundaries of the episcopal area". During the General Conference of 1948, an amendment was proposed to Par. 440 which would require the consent of the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy for fixing the boundaries of the episcopal areas. It was appealed to the Judicial Council which rendered a decision (Decision No. 57) declaring the proposed amendment unconstitutional "as this power is reserved to the Bishops as a part of Episcopal administration under the Constitution." Nevertheless, the 1968 General Conference adopted legislation in Discipline Par. 624.3 which stated, The Committee (Committee on Episcopacy) shall recommend the boundaries of the episcopal areas after consultation with the College of Bishops and the assignment of the bishops to their respective residences for final action by the Jurisdictional Conference. This same provision remains in substantially the same form, although with the elimination of the provision for consultation with the College of Bishops, in the 1980 Discipline as Par. 622.3(b).* The inquiry from the Council of Bishops in this petition asks, Does not the fact that the constitutional authority of the College of Bishops in terms of arranging a plan of episcopal supervision in the Annual Conferences in the Jurisdiction has remained unchanged through the years, plus the fact that Judicial Council Decision No. 57 ruled unconstitutional proposed legislation which would have required the College of Bishops to receive the concurrence of the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy before announcing the plan of episcopal supervision, thereby render unconstitutional the provisions of present 622.3(b) which purports to turn over the matter of the plan of episcopal supervision entirely into the hands of the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy and the Jurisdictional Conference. It would appear that the Judicial Council Decision No. 57 is a rather decisive ruling on this question and that Par. 622.3(b) is unconstitutional. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2615 of the 1980 Discipline. ANALYSIS Prior to the formation of The Methodist Church in 1939, bishops exercised their responsibility for "arranging the plan of episcopal supervision" without reference to the then non-existent Jurisdictional Conference. In the Methodist Episcopal Church the area system was developed which charged the bishops with making the plan of episcopal supervision annually, and further provided that at least one session of each Annual Conference each quadrennium would be held by some bishop other than the bishop assigned to the area. In the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, there were no areas, but the bishops made the plan of episcopal visitation annually, and beginning about 1914 began the custom of assigning the same bishop to hold the same conference for four years to afford some measure of continuity. Until 1968 when there was the union of The Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren Churches, the bishops of the Methodist Church acted on the assumption that under Par. 37 (now Par. 53) it was their responsibility to determine the boundaries of the respective areas. Judicial Council Decision No. 57 concurred with that position. In the Constitution adopted in 1968 by The United Methodist Church, Par. 55 mandates a Committee on Episcopacy in the Jurisdictional Conference and provides that it shall recommend the assignment of the bishops to their respective areas but makes no reference to setting the boundaries of the episcopal areas. It does provide for the recommendation of such boundaries after consultation with the College of Bishops. Such provision does not appear in Par. 622.3(b) of the 1980 Discipline. It is argued that while the Constitution Par. 55 provides for the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy "recommending the assignments of the bishops to their respective residences," yet the authority of the College of Bishops in Par. 53 is also still intact in the 198 Discipline and is the same as has been interpreted in Judicial Council Decision No. 57. And the question is raised, that, in light of the above, is not Par. 622.3(b) in conflict with the Constitution? The Discipline clearly provides for a Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy and mandates the assignment of bishops to their respective residences by recommendation of the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy, with final action by the Jurisdictional Conference. Par. 55 of the Constitution states: The committee shall review the work of the bishops, pass on their character and official administration, and report to the Jurisdictional Conference its findings for such action as the conference may deem appropriate within its constitutional warrant of power. The committee shall recommend the assignments of the bishops to their respective residences for final action by the Jurisdictional Conference. Not so clear is the mandate concerning the fixing of conference boundaries and the plan of episcopal supervision. The only reference to the latter in the Constitution is Par. 53, Article IV regarding the constituting of the College of Bishops and the charge, "shall arrange the plan of episcopal supervision of the Annual Conferences, Missionary Conferences, and Missions within their respective territories." Par. 507 deals with the Assignment Process and calls for recommendation by the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy of the boundaries of the episcopal areas and the assignment of the bishops to their residences. Thus, two items that might be construed as "a plan of episcopal supervision" are assigned to the Jurisdictional Committee. This assignment is repeated in Par. 622.3(b). The question at issue is simply: Does such provision forboundary-setting and assignment violate the intent of Constitution Par. 53? The Council of Bishops has submitted a brief directed to the language of Par. 622.3(b) of the 1980 Discipline. However, this paragraph merely provides that the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy may recommend. This involves no problem of constitutionality. The problem is in Par. 507.1 which states: . . . Assignment Process-1. Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy-The Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy, after consultation with the College of Bishops, shall recommend the boundaries of the episcopal areas and the assignment of the bishops to their respective residences for final action by the Jurisdictional Conference ... This section is clearly contrary to Par. 53 of the Constitution and is therefore unconstitutional to the extent that it authorizes fixing of boundaries of episcopal areas by final action of the Jurisdictional Conference. Decision Par. 622.3(b) is constitutional. Par. 507.1 is unconstitutional to the extent that it authorizes fixing of boundaries of episcopal areas by final action of the Jurisdictional Conference. This power is reserved to the bishops as part of the episcopal administration under the Constitution

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