Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 637
October 24 1990
In Re: Petition from the Northern New Jersey Annual Conference for a Decision as to the Meaning of Par.505 and its Effect on a Proposed Recommendation to a Special Session of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference.
Digest of Case
The action of the Northeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church is constitutional with the exception that 510.3 of the 1988 Discipline does not provide for the appointment of a retired bishop to serve as a resident bishop in such a situation.
Statement of Facts
A special session of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference was held on July 14, 1990. The purpose of the special session was to create a tenth episcopal area to be entitled the Albany area and that a retired bishop be named to preside over the Albany Area in accordance with the recommendation of the College of Bishops of the Northeastern Jurisdiction and the approval of the Council of Bishops. The action was adopted. The action was based on a proposal to the Northeastern Jurisdiction from the College of Bishops. In addition, a document so recommending entitled "Visions of the Office of Bishop in the Year 2000: Northeastern Jurisdiction, UnitedMethodist Church", had been presented at the regular session in 1988 and distributed to the Jurisdictional Conference to be used by the College of Bishops in reference to the presentation of the special session. Prior to the holding of the special session a resolution was adopted by the Northern New Jersey Annual Conference with the following key provisions: NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Northern New Jersey Annual Conference request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council, pursuant to Par. 2615.2(j) of the Discipline, as to the meaning and effect of Par. 505 of the Discipline and whether Par. 505 supports a two-step division and reorganization of Episcopal Areas which could not legally be accomplished in a single step; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that should the Judicial Council decline to entertain the above-mentioned petition for failure of jurisdiction, and should the Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference approve the recommendation, the Northern New Jersey Annual Conference shall appeal the question of the legality of such action to the Judicial Council pursuant to Par. 2610 of the Discipline, unless such an appeal is taken by the Jurisdictional Conference;... A formal request was made for a special session of the Judicial Council and denied. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2615 of the 1988 Discipline . ANALYSIS Paragraph 15 of the Constitution gives the General Conference " . . . full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional . . ." including authority "To fix a uniform basis upon which bishops shall be elected by the Jurisdictional Conferences . . ." Paragraph 51 of the Constitution further provides, "The bishops of each Jurisdictional and General Conference shall constitute a College of Bishops and such College of Bishops shall arrange the plan of episcopal supervision of the Annual Conferences, Missionary Conferences, and Missions within their respective territories. The General Conference in 1988 adopted an amendment to Par. 505 of the then 1984 Discipline, by adding these words ". . . and provided further, that any episcopal area having two or more Annual Conferences with more than 125,000 members each may be divided into two episcopal area by the Jurisdictional Conference with the addition of the needed bishop(s) made necessary by the division. This legislation shall take effect upon adjournment of the 1988 General Conference." Paragraph 510.3 provides, "A bishop retired under Par. 509.1, .2 above may be appointed by the Council of Bishops upon recommendation of the involved College of Bishops to presidential responsibility for temporary service in an area in the case of death, resignation, disability or procedure involving a resident bishop (Par. 2624.2). This appointment shall not continue beyond the next Jurisdictional or General Conference." The Northern New Jersey Annual Conference has filed a brief in this matter asking for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council specifically on the following grounds: The financial impact of an additional Episcopal Area affects the NNJAC, giving the NNJAC the right to appeal; and The Special Session's method of handling the Discipline is inappropriate modeling, which affects the NNJAC and all the other Conferences, boards and agencies of the church. Approving the action of the Special Session would indicate that the Discipline is a code book to be manipulated, which will affect the NNJAC, giving the NNJAC the right to appeal. The action of the Special Session is an illegal use of Par. 505. They argue that at the close of the 1988 session of the General Conference there was no Episcopal Area in the Northeastern Jurisdiction eligible for division pursuant to that language. They also point out that at the 1988 Conference of the Northeastern Jurisdiction, the College of Bishops proposed to create an Episcopal Area consisting of the Baltimore and Western Pennsylvania Annual Conferences, each of which had 230,000 members or more. Subsequent to that the recommendation for the new Albany Area was made pursuant to Par. 505. The complaint is that the two-step procedure violates the intent of Par. 505. We find ample provision in the Constitutional Articles quoted above for the action of the Jurisdictional Conference to create an Episcopal Area consisting of the Baltimore and Western Pennsylvania Annual Conferences. Further, Par. 505 clearly provides authority to establish a new area. The fact that it is a "two-step" procedure is not in and of itself a violation of the Discipline, but rather a logical way of going about it. One of the primary reasons for the opposition to the creation of a new area is the added costs and the Judicial Council has received a number of objections on that basis. This may well be a valid objection. However, everyone concerned has been notified since the regular session of 1988 that this was in progress and those objections should be dealt with by the Jurisdictional Conference. While this objection gives validity for the Northern New Jersey Annual Conference to appeal to this body, it does not authorize this body to intervene. On the other hand, the provision for appointing a bishop to serve in the new area, while not specifically prohibited, is not provided for by Par. 510.3. Those provisions are rather specific. We are in the unfortunate position of having to say pragmatically that the "deed is done" and probably no harm is done. Therefore we would specifically rule that both the procedure and the establishment of the Albany Area is constitutional. The appointment of a retired bishop is not envisioned by the Discipline but may remain in place for the short time before there is a jurisdictional election. It is obviously necessary for the Albany Area to have a resident bishop.
The action of the Northeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church is constitutional with the exception of the fact that 510.3 of the 1988 Discipline does not provide for the appointment of a retired member to serve as a resident bishop in such a situation.