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Decision No. 815

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October 24 1997
In Re: Request from the General Board of Discipleship for a Declamatory Decision on the Meaning of the Phrase "Or Other Equivalent Structure" in Par. 630 of the 1996 Discipline.

Digest of Case

A conference board of laity or other equivalent structure is not an optional Annual Conference board. It is a mandatory part of an Annual Conference structure. Par. 630.1 does provide for an alternative equivalent structure by use of the phrase "or other equivalent structure". By definition "equivalent" is synonymous with parallel, comparable, unvarying, and match. Hence, the General Conference has mandated the Annual Conference to name an equivalent structure which shall be designated to do the defined tasks of a board of laity: (1) provide for the functions, connectional relationships and related ministries assigned by the 1996 Discipline to the Board of Laity in Par. 630; (2) maintain the connectional objectives and relationship with the General Board of Discipleship as cited in Pars. 1101-1125.

Statement of Facts

On February 15, 1997 the National Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders petitioned the General Board of Discipleship to request from Judicial Council a declaratory decision on the meaning of the words in Par. 630.1 of the 1996 Discipline: There shall be in every annual conference a conference board of laity or other equivalent structure to provide for these functions and maintain connectional relationship. It shall provide for the ministry of the laity related to the objectives of the General Board of Discipleship as set forth in PP 1101-1125. On March 8, 1997 the Board of Discipleship requested the declaratory decision related to Par. 630.1 citing the words "...or other equivalent structure." It is noted that this added phrase "...or other equivalent structure..." was proposed 1996 legislation from the National Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders and endorsed by the General Board of Discipleship. The intent was to allow the Board of Laity to be called by other names and have different lines of accountability in the Annual Conference. It was not the intent to eliminate the identifiable entity in the Annual Conference which would implement the defined functions of Par. 630 of the 1996 Discipline related to the work of laity in the Annual Conference. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Par. 15 of the Constitution states: The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: ... 3. To define and fix the powers and duties of annual conferences, provisional annual conferences, missionary conferences and missions, and of central conferences, district conferences, charge conferences, and congregational meetings.... 8. To initiate and to direct ail connectional enterprises of the Church and to provide boards for their promotion and administration.... In addition Par. 607 states: The annual conference is responsible for structuring its ministries in order to accomplish its purpose (¶ 601). In so doing it shall provide for the connectional relationship of the local church, district, and conference with the general agencies. It will monitor to ensure inclusiveness – racial, gender, age, and people with disabilities – in the annual conference. l. An annual conference shall provide for the functions and General Conference connections with all general agencies provided by the Discipline. In doing this, the annual conference may organize units so long as the functions of ministry are fulfilled and the connectional relationships are maintained. A conference board of laity or other equivalent structure is not an optional Annual Conference board. It is a mandatory part of an Annual Conference structure. Par. 630.1 does provide for an alternative equivalent structure by use of the phrase "or other equivalent structure". By definition "equivalent" is synonymous with parallel, comparable, unvarying, and match. Hence, the General Conference has mandated the Annual Conference to name an equivalent structure which shall be designated to do the defined tasks for a board of laity: (1) provide for the functions, connectional relationships and related ministries assigned by the 1996 Discipline to the Board of Laity in Par. 630; (2) maintain the connectional objectives and relationship with the General Board of Discipleship as cited in Pars. 1101-1125. The Discipline in Par. 630 defines purpose and mandates connection with the local church, district, Annual Conference, and General Board of Discipleship. The Discipline defines that the Conference Lay Leader shall be chair of the board or equivalent structure. However, there are provisions for flexible options for other elected officers and in recommended membership. The Discipline in Par. 630.5 mandates relationship with lay speaking and "...the organized lay groups in the conference." The Board of Discipieship brief alleges that some conferences have restructured in such a manner as to omit from the structure any entity to fulfill the functions and connectional relationships set forth in 'J 630.1 of the 1996 Discipline. Also, there are reports that some Annual Conferences have restructured so as to eliminate many, if not all, of the connectional relationships with general agencies. This may have been done under the misconception that Annual Conferences were authorized to restructure upon the passage and ratification of the constitutional amendment P 15. 15 "to allow the annual conferences to utilize structure unique to their mission, other mandated structures notwithstanding." The adoption of this amendment gives only the General Conference authority "to allow the Annual Conferences to utilize structures unique to their mission..." The General Conference may adopt legislation which would enable the Annual Conference to restructure setting forth such terms and conditions as the General Conference may determine in accordance with provisions of the amendment and the Constitution. Some specific guidelines for an Annual Conference restructuring are as follows: 1. There is no General Conference legislation adopted which enables an Annual Conference to restructure in accordance with Par. 15.15 of the Constitution. 2. Neither an Annual Conference nor the General Conference can take action until the passage, ratification, and effective date of a constitutional amendment. Any such legislation is moot, null and void. There can be no restructuring by an Annual Conference pursuant to amended P 15.15 of the Constitution until such time as the General Conference passes appropriate enabling legislation. 3. Any General Conference enabling legislation enacted to define "to allow the Annual Conferences to utilize structures unique to their mission..." must preserve the connectional system. Not only does the General Conference have the authority to "initiate and direct all connectional enterprises of the church and to provide boards for their promotion and administration", the General Conference has a constitutional duty to provide the structure and organization for functions and connectional relationships between General boards and agencies and the Annual Conference, district and local church.

Decision

. conference board of laity or other equivalent structure is not an optional Annual Conference board. It is a mandatory part of an Annual Conference structure. Par. 630.1 does provide for an alternative equivalent structure by use of the phrase 'or other equivalent structure". By definition "equivalent" is synonymous with parallel, comparable, unvarying, and match. Hence, the General Conference mandates the Annual Conference to name an equivalent structure which shall be designated to do the defined tasks of a board of laity: (1) provide for the functions, connectional relationships and related ministries assigned by the 1996 Discipline to the Board of Laity in Par. 630; (2) maintain the connectional objectives and relationship with the General Board of Discipleship as cited in Pars, 1101-1125 This copy subject to final editing and correction.

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