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Decision No. 576

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April 23 1987
In Re: An Appeal From a Bishop's Ruling that Discipline Par. 706 Takes Precedence Over Par. 738, as it Relates to a Conference Commission or Committee on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

Digest of Case

An Annual Conference has the authority to structure itself for effective mission in any mode deemed appropriate, as long as it makes provision for the connectional relationship between the general boards and commissions and the conference, district and local church. The bishop's ruling is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

A resolution was adopted by the Virginia Annual Conference on June 11, 1986 that the Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns continue to be a Division of the Board of Global Ministries. This Resolution rescinded an action of the 1985 Conference session which established the Committee on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns as a separate free-standing committee of the Annual Conference, separate from the Board of Global Ministries. Bishop Robert M. Blackburn was asked in writing for a ruling of law on whether Discipline Par. 706 or Par. 738 has precedence in such action. On June 12, Bishop Blackburn ruled: There has been an appeal to me when I was presiding in an official session of the Virginia Annual Conference to determine the priority in authority between paragraph 706 and paragraph 738. Both deal with the mandated directions regarding the formation of a committee, or committees, which are set to take care of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. It is my judgment that the priority between the two somewhat involved paragraphs is determined for paragraph 706 by reason of its statement that "The Annual Conference shall structure itself for effective mission in any way deemed appropriate." This surely gives the annual conference complete power to arrange its committee in re this matter in any way its deems effective. I am further persuaded to make this ruling and I learn that in other annual conferences the issue has been decided in this way and certain general officers of the church have so informed us, saying that 706 always takes precedence. I am glad to join those of the Virginia Conference who have made this appeal to me and send it on to the Judicial Council for their final determination during this quadrennium pending action by the 1988 General Conference which should see that present paragraphs 706 and 738 are properly reconciled and/or rewritten. Bishop Blackburn forwarded his ruling to the Judicial Council in timely fashion. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has Jurisdiction under Discipline Par. 2611. ANALYSIS Par. 738 mandates that: (1) each Annual Conference shall create a Commissionor Committee on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns; (2) the commission or committee shall report each year to the conference in such manner as the conference shall direct; a representative of the commission is to serve as one of the conference representatives to state councils or conferences of churches; and, (4) the commission is to fulfil the duties described in Par. 738.4, including relationship to the General Commission. The action of the Virginia Conference makes this commission one of four divisions of the Conference Board of Global Ministries. It has ten members, as does each of the other divisions. Its presiding officer relates to the Jurisdictional and General Commissions on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. Each district is asked to have a representative of this interest on its District Council on Ministries and that person is to relate to the Annual Conference division. It is to be noted that two other Annual Conferences have this arrangement, while a third relates the commission to its Board of Church and Society. Forty-nine Annual Conferences have established separate agencies. In Memorandum 411 and Decision 416 we affirmed the autonomy of an Annual Conference in setting up its organizational structure. However, we warned that such structure must provide for connectional relationships between general boards and the conference, district and local church. Par. 738 in the 1984 Discipline clearly mandates the creation a Commission or Committee on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns in each Annual Conference. The mandate does not specifically require a commission or committee unrelated to a major conference board or agency. The plan of the Virginia Conference makes provisions for the mandate in 738.1. It provides for connectional relationship beyond the Annual Conference and within it. The Conference has exercised its authority "to structure itself for effective mission in any mode deemed appropriate." Therefore, the bishop's ruling is correct. This case is similar to the Judicial Council Decisions 417 and 418. The Virginia Annual Conference has the authority to take the action that it did so long as the limitations recited in those decisions are followed.

Decision

An Annual Conference has the authority to structure itself for effective mission in any mode deemed appropriate, as long as it makes provision for the connectional relationship between the general boards and commissions and the conference, district and local church. The bishop's ruling is affirmed.

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