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Decision No. 718

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October 28 1994
In Re: Constitutionality, Meaning, Application, and Effect of Par.1418.5, Providing for the Seating of Deaconesses in the Annual Conference With Voice and Vote.

Digest of Case

The two added words "and vote" to Par. 1418.5 are unconstitutional. Par. 35 is specific and clear in prescribing Annual Conference membership which includes the right to vote. Deaconesses are not included as Annual Conference members in Par. 35 and therefore may not be granted the privilege of vote.

Statement of Facts

On June 9, 1994 the Western North Carolina Conference adopted the following petition during the session: In accordance with Par. 2616.2(j) of The Book of Discipline (1992), the Western North Carolina Conference respectfully petitions the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church for a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application, and effect of Par. 1418.5 of The Book of Discipline (1992), which reads, Deaconesses shall be seated at the sessions of the Annual Conference with voice and vote. In so petitioning, the conference raised the following questions: Question 1: Is Par. 1418.5 constitutional, either in whole or in part? Question 2: If 1418.5 is constitutional, either in whole or in part, to which deaconesses does it apply? That is, does it apply only to deaconesses who are actively serving appointments within the bounds of the Annual Conference, or are other deaconesses, specifically retired or located deaconesses holding church membership in a church in the Annual Conference, also included? Question 3: If deaconesses are granted the right to vote in the Annual Conference under Par. 1418.5, do they in effect become members of the Annual Conference, and, if so, are they to be considered as clergy or as laity in the process of membership equalization (cf. Par. 35)? JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2616 of the 1992 Discipline. ANALYSIS In response to the question (No. 1) "Is Par. 1418.5 constitutional, either in whole or in part?": The addition to Par. 1418.5 of the 1992 Discipline ofthe last two words, "and vote" is unconstitutional. In Par. 35 of the 1992 Discipline, the Constitution does not include deaconesses as members of the Annual Conference. Decision 129 notes, " Only members of the Annual Conference can vote on matters enumerated in the Constitution. By implication, it would be unconstitutional for an Annual Conference to grant the right to vote on any matter to a person not a member of the Annual Conference." Absence of "deaconesses" from the Constitution Par. 35 means that they are not members of the Annual Conference and therefore cannot be granted the right to vote. Also, see Decisions 136, 391, 477. However, the Discipline does not prohibit the Annual Conference's granting the privilege of being seated with voice. With the deletion of the words "and vote," Par. 1418.5 is constitutional. In response to the question (No. 2), Par. 1418.5 without the words "and vote" applies to deaconesses in Pars. 1418.2, .3, and .4. In response to question (No. 3), this question is moot by the fact that membership and vote by virtue of being a deaconess is unconstitutional. However, a deaconess is a lay person who holds membership (Par. 1418.4) in a local church and may be elected, in accordance with Par. 1418.6 as prescribed in Pars. 35 and 252.2a, as the lay member of Annual Conference from the electing local church. Also, in regard to question 3 related to equalization, Decision 561 notes:"No lay member, however elected or qualified for membership in an Annual Conference, can be excluded from the count of lay members prior to equalization of clergy and laity." Furthermore, Decision 479 affirms, "An Annual Conference does not have the responsibility or the right to equalize lay and ministerial membership when the ministerial membership numbers less than the lay members."

Decision

The two added words "and vote" to Par. 1418.5 are unconstitutional. Par. 35 is specific and clear in prescribing Annual Conference membership which includes the right to vote. Deaconesses are not included as Annual Conference members in Par. 35 and therefore may not be granted the privilege of vote.

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