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Decision No. 680

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October 29 1992
In Re: Petition for a Judgment on the Legality of Structure Adopted by the North Indiana Conference.

Digest of Case

An Annual Conference may not restructure itself in such a manner that it disregards the mandatory structures established by the General Conference and described specifically in the Discipline.

Statement of Facts

A new Conference structure was adopted by the North Indiana Conference at the 1992 session of that Conference. The 1992 General Conference amended Par. 706.1 of the 1988 Discipline to read: An Annual Conference shall provide for the functions and General Conference connections of all boards and agencies required by the Discipline. In doing this the Annual Conference may utilize structures unique to regional aspects of its mission, other mandated structures not withstanding. A motion was made that the North Indiana Conference submit the new structure to the Judicial Council for declaratory decision. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2615 of the 1988 Discipline. ANALYSIS It appears that the structure adopted by the North Indiana Annual Conference took the language of 706.1 as allowing restructuring with the maximum amount of flexibility: The Annual Conference shall provide for the connectional relationship between the general boards and commissions and the conference, district, and local church. 1. The Annual Conference shall structure itself for effective mission in any mode deemed appropriate. In each Annual Conference, there may be conference program boards related to the general program boards organized as the Annual Conference shall determine. The Annual Conference shall provide for the connectional relationship between the general program boards and the conference, districts, and local churches, and shall specifically assign the program responsibilities related to the objective and scope of the general program boards to agencies of the Annual Conference. The Judicial Council has repeatedly ruled on this question. We said in our Decision Number 640: While an Annual Conference "shall structure itself for effective mission in any mode deemed appropriate," Par. 706.1 of the 1988 Discipline, it may not ignore the mandatory provisions of the 1988 Discipline related to structure in Pars. 707, 715, 722, 726, 728, 729, 730, 731, 732, 733, 734, 735, 737, 738, 739, 740, 741, 742, 743, and 2512. The issue was completely covered in our Decision No. 314 where we stated: The central question is whether an Annual Conference may, at its own option, disregard a specific instruction adopted by the General Conference and made applicable to every Annual Conference. For example, Paragraph 1146 states: "Each Annual Conference shall elect ... a conference Board of Evangelism . . ." To cover the prescribed functions but not provide for the prescribed agency is not to meet the requirement of the law. If the Discipline uses permissive language, as in Paragraph 1391.1 "Each Annual Conference may create a Conference Commission on Ecumenical Affairs," the establishment of the structure is left to the discretion of the conference. (Emphasis supplied.) If the organizations and assignment of functions in Annual Conference agencies are unsatisfactory to members of a conference they may, of course, seek to effect desired changes through General Conference action. The foregoing conclusions necessarily follow from the nature of The United Methodist Church as a connectional institution. See Paragraphs 665.1 and 665.2 of the Discipline. The East Ohio Annual Conference in any restructuring may not set aside, modify or ignore the mandatory language in Paragraphs 707, 715, 722, 726, 728, 729, 730, 731, 732, 733, 734, 735, 737, 738, 739, 740, 741, 742, 743, and 2512. See also Decision Nos. 411, 417 and 418. In our Decision No. 576, we stated: 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 of 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. The Decision in that case is as follows: 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. The amendment to Par. 706 of the 1988 Discipline does not eliminate the requirement that Annual Conferences must specifically provide for counterpart boards and agencies to those of the General Church. The North Indiana Annual Conference does not provide for all of those structures, such as Council on Finance and Administration, Council on Ministries, Conference Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Conference Board of Pensions, Conference Commission or Committee on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Conference Commission on Religion and Race, Conference Commission of Status and Role of Women, Conference Council on Youth Ministry, nor does it provide for positions of Conference Treasurer, and Conference Council on Ministries Director, and others. Disciplinary mandated structures and positions must be included in any proposed structure. The provisions concerning restructuring before the Judicial Council are inadequate in that regard. Further, the amendment to 706 is flawed in the same fashion as paragraphs 665.1 as amended by the 1972 General Conference. In regard to that legislation, we said: If each Annual Conference is free to decide for itself, without guidelines or controlling standards from any other source regarding any of the restrictive elements listed, the total connectional system of the church will be undercut at the Annual Conference level, not promoted and administered as the Constitution contemplates. The General Conference may not so delegate its constitutional responsibilities, (Decision 409). We affirm that statement today as we did in Decision 409. The amendment to Par. 707.1 by the 1992 General Conference is unconstitutional in that it is an unauthorized delegation of power to an Annual Conference. The North Indiana structure document is therefore invalid.

Decision

The action of the North Indiana Annual Conference in adopting a new Conference structure is invalid insofar as it conflicts with the specific requirements established by the General Conference and is void and of no effect. The amendment to 707.1 of the 1992 Discipline is unconstitutional.

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