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Decision No. 742

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April 22 1995
In Re: Review of Bishop's Decision of Law in the West Virginia Conference Concerning Legality of Lay Members Voting on Policies Affecting Clergy Members of Annual Conference.

Digest of Case

A policy concerning matters of clergy ordination, membership, and character may be adopted by an Annual Conference plenary session of lay and clergy members, so long as that policy is not in conflict with the provisions, spirit, or intent of the Discipline. Only clergy in full connection may vote on conference relations or ordination of individuals. The decision of the bishop is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

In the 1994 session of the West Virginia Annual Conference, a policy concerning admission of clergy candidates into full connection without a Master of Divinity degree was adopted by the Annual Conference in plenary session, composed of both lay and clergy members. Following adoption of the policy, a written request was submitted to the presiding bishop, S. Clifton Ives, for a decision of law to answer the following questions: 1. What constitutes "questions relating to matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy?" 2. Are Annual Conference rules and amendments to them regarding "matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy" solely the business of the clergy executive session of the Annual Conference? The questioner cited, among other paragraphs, 705.6: "Questions related tomatters of ordination, character. and conference relations of clergy shall be the business of the clergy session. The actions of the clergy session shall be for and on behalf of the Annual Conference." Bishop Ives ruled as follows: (1) The cited language, "matters of ordination, character, and conference relations," should be interpreted as being matters involving judgments as to proper application of standards and policies to particular individuals, i.e., judgments as to the fitness of particular men and women for a particular status in the ministry and not as relating to matters establishing those standards an(sic) policies in the first instance. (2) "Matters of ordination, character, and Conference relation of ministers," as interpreted herein, are reserved exclusively to clergy members. Other matters and in particular the rules of the Annual Conference, must before taking effect, be presented to the Conference's full membership for an appropriate vote. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2613 of the 1992 Discipline. ANALYSIS The language of the Discipline, including the Constitution, is not as clear on this issue as one might wish. Par. 15 gives to the General Conference "full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional," and authority to "define and fix the powers of elders, deacons . . ." and others in ministry. Par. 36 gives to the Annual Conference "the right to vote on ... all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members ... with the exception that the lay members may not vote on matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of ministers." Historically, this potential conflict of authority has been resolved under the church's understanding that clergy qualifications are distinctively connectional and that individual clergy membership is an Annual Conference concern. The General Conference has determined the standards under which conference membership and ordination may be granted or terminated by an Annual Conference. This establishes the precedent that lay persons may vote on these aspects of ordination, character, and conference membership. However, the General Conference has no authority to grant, deny, or terminate Annual Conference membership or ordination for an individual. Only clergy members of the Annual Conference may do that. Clergy qualifications established by the General Conference are minimal, as recognized in Decision 536: "An Annual Conference may not subtract from thedisciplinary requirements for conference membership, but it may under certain circumstances adopt additional requirements not in conflict with disciplinary provisions or their spirit or intent." As noted above, the General Conference has no authority to vote on the status of individual clergy, but lay and clergy alike vote to establish the standards by which individual clergy shall be admitted, ordained, and evaluated as to character in the Annual Conference. Following this precedent, lay and clergy alike may vote to define the policies to be followed in their Annual Conference in such matters, within the provisions, spirit, and intent of the Discipline as defined in Decision 536. The decision of the bishop is affirmed.

Decision

A policy concerning matters of clergy, ordination, membership, and character may be adopted by an Annual Conference plenary session of lay and clergy members, so long as that policy is not in conflict with the provisions, spirit. or intent of the Discipline. Only clergy in full connection may vote on conference relations or ordination of individuals. The decision of the bishop is affirmed.

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