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Decision No. 694

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October 29 1993
In Re: Annual Conference Actions Concerning Covenant Services and Celebrations in Local Churches of Relationships of Couples Outside the Civil and Religious Rite of Marriage.

Digest of Case

The Annual Conference has no authority to establish or alter the official rites and rituals of The United Methodist Church. It is the responsibility of the pastors in charge to perform their duties in compliance with the Discipline and to be obedient to the Order and Discipline of the Church.

Statement of Facts

In the first case, the Legislative Committee of the Minnesota Conference approved a resolution which would have given reconciling congregations the right to offer services of blessing and celebration of committed relationships of couples of the same gender. The bishop ruled that such a resolution would be out of order as it would violate certain disciplinary provisions, specifically referring to Pars. 71(c), 406, 439. In the second case, the Troy Conference on May 28, 1993, approved a resolution stating: 1) the session of the Troy Annual Conference determines thatcovenant services are not marriage services; and 2) that clergy who wish to may participate in a "Covenant Service," which is the celebration of a relationship in which God's love is affirmed. The resolution was approved and the conference requested a declaratory decision. An oral hearing was held on October 28, 1993 in Atlanta, Georgia. Appearing were Laurits Nielsen and Judith Westendorf, representing Reconciling Congregations. We assume jurisdiction for the narrow purpose of stating this decision. The authority of the General Conference, the Annual Conference, and the pastor is at the heart of this matter. The General Conference is the legislative body which has prerogative over matters distinctively connectional (Par. 15), as well as the Hymnal and Ritual of the Church (Par. 15.6). The Annual Conference does not have authority either to establish or to alter the official rites and rituals of The United Methodist Church. It is the responsibility and duty of the pastor to "oversee the total ministry of the local church in its nurturing ministries and in fulfilling its mission of witness and service in the world ..." (Par. 439). Par. 439.1(a) further states it is the responsibility of the pastor "to preach the Word, oversee the worship life of the congregation, read and teach the Scriptures, and engage the people in study and witness." It is the responsibility of pastors in charge to perform their duties in compliance with the Discipline and be obedient to the Order and Discipline of the Church. (Par. 431.9)

Decision

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