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Decision No. 710

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April 28 1994
In Re: Review of Bishop's Decision of Law in the Uniting Conference for the New England Conference Concerning Legality of Actions Taken by the Executive Committee of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference and the Bishop, Cabinet, and Council On Ministries of each of the Three Constituent Conferences.

Digest of Case

The decision of the bishop is not affirmed. The delegation of authority and responsibility by the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference to its Executive Committee to review, revise and/or approve a Plan of Merger for the Annual Conference of Boston Area was an unconstitutional delegation of authority. The delegation of responsibility to the several Conference Councils on Ministries to elect a Commission to Initiate a United Conference and a Joint Distributing Committee was an unconstitutional delegation of authority and responsibility.

Statement of Facts

The Minutes of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference indicate that on July 15, 1992, the Jurisdictional Conference adopted the following report made by its Committee on Episcopacy: 1. The 1992 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference: (c) Directs the three Annual Conferences of the Boston Area to merge into a single Conference effective not later than January 1, 1994, and to submit a plan for consummating that merger to the Executive Committee of the Jurisdiction not later than April 15, 1993. (d) Authorizes and instructs the Executive Committee of the Northeastern Jurisdiction to review/revise/approve the aforementioned merger plan on behalf of the Northeastern Jurisdiction, such action to be completed not later than September 1, 1993. (e) In the event a satisfactory merger plan has not been received from the Boston Area by April 15, 1993, authorizes and instructs the Executive Committee of the Northeastern Jurisdiction to develop a plan to merge the three Annual Conferences of the Boston Area into one conference, effective not later than January 1, 1994. In September 1992 Bishop F. Herbert Skeete presented to the several Conference Councils on Ministries nominees for a merger committee, the Commission to Initiate a United Conference. This Committee was elected by the Council on Ministries. Also elected in a similar manner was a Joint Distributing Committee. In May and June, 1993 the actions of the merger committee were presented to the various Annual Conference Sessions as information only. The Plan of Merger was subsequently submitted to the Executive Committee of the Northeastern Jurisdiction and was approved. On November 13, 1993 a gathering, known variously as a "Special Joint Session of the Conferences of the Boston Area," or a "Special Uniting Session of the New England Annual Conference," was convened by the bishop. This body voted to ratify the elections of the merger committee and actions of the Distributing Committee. Bishop Skeete, when asked to do so, ruled that the actions of the various entities involved in the process of merger of the Conferences of the Boston Area were in accordance with the provisions of the Discipline. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2613 of the 1992 Discipline. ANALYSIS There are two questions to be considered in this petition. The first question is whether the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference was in compliance with the provisions of the Discipline when it authorized its Executive Committee to "review/revise/approve" a Plan of Merger of the Annual Conferences of the Northeastern Jurisdiction. Par. 43 of the Constitution states: Changes in the number, names, and boundaries of the Annual Conferences may be effected by the Jurisdictional Conferences in the United States of America . . . according to the provisions under the powers of the Jurisdictional . . . Conference. In Judicial Council Decision No. 447 this Council stated: The Jurisdictional Conference does have the authority to cause union, merger, division or dissolution of an Annual Conference without consent of each Annual Conference affected by such action, subject to the limitations of Par. 26.4 (25.4, 1992 Discipliine) and Par. 41. In the instant case the Northeastern Jurisdiction delegated the authority for final approval of the plan of merger of the Annual Conferences of the Boston Area to its Executive Committee. This Council has ruled that powers and duties reserved to a particular conference of the Church cannot be delegated to any entity. Illustrative of this conclusion are Decisions 28, 217, IJC1, IJC2. In Decision 457 this Council said: In those decisions it is evident that the Judicial Council recognized not only that the Jurisdictional Conference had the power to determine the number, names and boundaries of their Annual Conferences but also that it was a non-delegable duty of the Jurisdictional Conference to make those decisions. When the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference authorized the Executive Committee to "review/revise/approve" the Plan of Merger of the Annual Conferences of the Boston Area this was an improper delegation of authority and responsibility. Under Par. 25.4 even the Jurisdictional Conference does not have the authority to approve a plan of merger. The Constitution of The United Methodist Church in Par. 36, provides that the "Annual Conference is the basic body in the Church." In matters of plans of merger each Annual Conference must vote separately on the same plan prior to presentation for final adoption at a uniting conference. Par. 726 authorizes the Council on Ministries "to facilitate the Church's program life in the Annual Conference" and "to provide for the development, administration and evaluation of the Annual Conference." No authority is granted to the Council on Ministries to elect instead of the Annual Conference. To permit the Council on Ministries to assume that responsibility was an improper delegation of authority and responsibility and deprived the Annual Conference of a right that is reserved to it under the provisions of the Constitution. The Annual Conference may not delegate any authority given it by the Discipline. (Decision 584) In summary, the Jurisdictional Conference does have the authority to cause union, merger, division, or dissolution of an Annual Conference.. (Par. 25.4, 1992 Discipline) Further, each Annual Conference involved must adopt the same plan of merger. The failure of each Annual Conference to adopt the same plan of merger violates Par. 36 of the Constitution.

Decision

The delegation of authority and responsibility by the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference to its Executive Committee to review, revise, and/or approve a Plan of Merger for the Annual Conference of the Boston Area was an unconstitutional delegation of authority. The delegation of responsibility to the several Conference Councils on Ministries to elect a Commission to Initiate a United Conference and a Joint Distributing Committee was an unconstitutional delegation of authority and responsibility. "The Annual Conference is the basic unit in the church and as such shall have reserved to it ... rights as not have been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution." (Par. 36) The Decision of the bishop is not sustained. The action of the Uniting Conference is not effected until such time as each of the three conferences meeting in separate bodies votes to adopt the same plan of merger. Opinion - Dissenting in Part I fully concur with my colleagues in their decision that the Annual Conference as "the basic body in the Church" (Par. 36) is the body which must adopt any plan of merger. I disagree, based on the information provided to the Judicial Council, that the actions actually taken by the Jurisdictional Executive Committee violated the Discipline. The Judicial Council has found that "the Northeastern Jurisdiction delegated the authority for final approval of the plan of merger of the Annual Conference of the Boston Area to its Executive Committee." (emphasis added) I do not believe that this is accurate. While, in fact, the words of the resolution passed at the 1992 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference were to have the Executive Committee of the Northeastern Jurisdiction "review/revise/approve the aforementioned merger plan," based on what has occurred, apparently the actual responsibility exercised by the Executive Committee was to make a review to insure that a full plan of merger had been developed in conformity with the Jurisdictional mandate of merger. Nothing more was done. A resolution which authorizes a committee of the Jurisdiction to review a merger plan for conformity with a merger directive is in keeping with the Jurisdiction's power "to make rules and regulations for the administration of the work of the Church within the Jurisdiction. . ." (Par. 25.5) Obviously, if final approval had been exercised by the Executive Committee, this would have been in violation of the Discipline. Evelynn S. Caterson

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