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Decision No. 555

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October 24 1985
In Re: Meaning of "Executive Session" of an Annual Conference and Eligibility of those Attending and Participating in Such Sessions

Digest of Case

Annual Conferences are mandated to provide Executive Sessions to consider matters related to the ordination, character, and conference relations of its clergy members. Because of the special covenant within the ministry, such sessions shall be closed to all persons except ordained members in full connection within that Annual Conference, unless others are admitted by express action and invitation of the Executive Session. No one so invited shall have vote, nor, unless specifically granted by the body, shall have voice.

Statement of Facts

The Judicial Council has received several requests concerning the meaning of Par. 421 in the 1984 Discipline. The first was a request from the Memphis Annual Conference regarding the meaning of the term "executive" session specifically asking whether the term "executive" must be interpreted to mean closed to observers. The second request came from the Southern New England Conference which raises the specific question of whether United Methodist members in full connection of another Annual Conference may be included. The example given was retired ministers who have maintained their full connection in another Annual Conference. It also raised the question as to whether the Executive Session is mandated. A third request of a similar nature came from the Southwest Texas Conference which raised identical questions. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2615 of the 1984 Discipline. ANALYSIS This is not the first request for a ruling regarding the Executive Sessions of an Annual Conference. In Judicial Decision No. 42, it was held constitutional that an Annual Conference could hold such sessions. While the Judicial Council indicated some ambiguity in the wording of what was then Par. 646, it held that it was constitutional to hold such sessions without lay representation. Decision No. 406 confirms the covenant which exists among the ministerial members of an Annual Conference and indicates that full information regarding candidates for the ministry should be available to the Executive Session and that principles of confidentiality must include the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Executive Session. (See Pars. 422, 423, 424, 437 and Decision 534.) The concept of an Executive Session is not unique to the church. Corporations and organizations may ask their employees who sit on boards or who attend meetings to be excused during an "executive" session of the group if sensitive matters need discussion and/or action. So it is with the Executive Session of an Annual Conference. Specific matters, sometimes of a sensitive nature, are discussed and acted upon with reference to the ordination, character and conference relations of the clergy. The Executive Session provides this opportunity in the covenant community and such provision must be made available at the Annual Conference sessions. Two further questions have been raised and need clarification. (1) Are affiliate members of an Annual Conference members of the Executive Session? They are not. They may be invited to attend but without vote and, unless specifically granted by the body, without voice. Their affiliate membership, entitling them to certain privileges within the Annual Conference in which they reside, is dependent upon a two-thirds vote of the Executive Session. (See Par. 443.4) (2) Is an Executive Session mandated, or does Par. 704.6 make it optional? Par. 704.6 refers primarily to the inquiry regarding the moral and official conduct of its ministers and may be cared for in an open session. However, an "Executive Session" is mandated by Par. 421 with regard to those matters unique to the covenant relationship: ordination, character, andconference relationships.

Decision

Annual Conferences are mandated to provide Executive Sessions to consider matters related to the ordination, character, and conference relations of its clergy members. Because of the special covenant within the ministry, such sessions shall be closed to all persons except ordained members in full connection within that Annual Conference, unless others are admitted by express action and invitation of the Executive Session. No one so invited shall have vote, nor, unless specifically granted by the body, shall have voice.

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