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Decision No. 827

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April 24 1998
In Re: Request from the Kansas West Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision as to the Constitutionality of the Conference Structure Adopted by the Kansas West Annual Conference at its 1997 Annual Conference Session.

Digest of Case

The action of the Kansas West Annual Conference in adopting a new conference structure is invalid because it conflicts with certain requirements established by the General Conference and is therefore void and of no effect. The current Annual Conference structure shall remain in effect. There can be no restructuring by an Annual Conference pursuant to amended ¶ 15.15 of the Constitution until such time as the General Conference adopts appropriate enabling legislation.

Statement of Facts

The Structure Committee of the Kansas West Annual Conference worked for several years to develop a new conference structure. The proposal was adopted by the Kansas West Annual Conference on May 31, 1997. Following the adoption of the new structure, the conference chancellor, Steven P. Childs, moved that the Kansas West Annual Conference petition the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of the new structure for the Kansas West Annual Conference. At a hearing on April 24, 1998, at Seattle, Washington, an oral presentation was made by Steven P. Childs, representing the Kansas West Annual Conference. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Last quadrennium, the Connectional Process Team, a structure study committee of the General Council on Ministries, spent considerable time and effort in developing new concepts for United Methodist Church structures. One concept which received considerable attention was the "Interactive" model. This interactive concept was adopted by the 1996 General Conference as the recommended structure for local church ministry (see ¶ 254, 1996 Discipline). This appears to be a basic concept which the Kansas West Structure Committee used to develop a "flexible streamlined, efficient" conference structure which recognizes "the local church as the primary locus of ministry." The structure proposal calls for a "Conference Council" with sweeping powers and authority. According to the proposal: The primary function of the Council will be to facilitate and coordinate the mission of the Annual Conference. Three areas of ministry will carry out this function; Leadership Development, Administrative Ministries, and Nurtures, Outreach and Witness. The Council will give guidance, support, and direction to ministry within the Annual Conference, including the Local Church, Ministry Clusters, Districts, and Annual Conference Ministry Teams, Committees, Task Forces, Commissions, Institutions, Agencies, and other bodies deemed appropriate for the mission of the Annual Conference. Communication and interaction among the three ministry areas will be essential. The Council will oversee the work of the Annual Conference between sessions of the Annual Conference. It will have broad decision making authority and a unified budget to manage. The Council will be comprised of 22 persons; the bishop, the conference lay leader, one youth selected by CCYM (or subsequent youth organization), one cabinet representative, three ministries coordinators, and 15 persons elected at large. The bishop and the three coordinators would have voice but not vote on the Council. . . The "Council" was to be responsible for supervising three ministry areas: NOW Ministries—Nurture, Outreach, Witness; Leadership Development Ministries; and Administrative Ministries. Designation of these areas will be for the enhancement of integrated ministry and not for the purpose of defining absolute areas of authority. Ministry should happen in and through and between all of the areas. The Ministry Teams will interact so as to support, encourage, and supplement each other. . . There are four major problem areas in this structure plan which cause the new structure to fail the constitutionality test. One is the way in which the new structure provides for connection with General Church agencies. The plan states: The function of these agencies and other Kansas West agencies not listed will be assigned to the Conference Council. The Council shall be mandated to address and provide for the function and issues of these agencies in whatever way the Council deems most efficient. The Council could create any entity (entities) necessary to accomplish this task: committees, task groups, ministry teams, boards, etc. The Council can also dissolve any entity as needs change... This does not adequately preserve the connectional system as required by Decision 815. A second major problem lies in the provision that the Personnel Committee would hire, review, evaluate, remove and manage all employed personnel of the Annual Conference, including support staff (emphasis added). It appears that this would include the hiring and supervision of the conference treasurer or the conference treasurer/director of administrative services. This is in conflict with ¶ 616, 1996 Discipline, which says the treasurer/director shall be directly amenable to the Conference Council on Finance and Administration. A third major problem is that the new structure involves the unauthorized delegation of the legislative authority and responsibility of the Annual Conference to the "Council" in that it authorizes the "Council" to determine and establish the connectional entities relating to mandated General Church agencies. A fourth major problem is that the new structure places the program functions and financial functions under one entity, the "Council." This eliminates the checks and balance system, which provides for the separation of powers and authority required by ¶ 608 of the 1996 Discipline. The foregoing is not meant to be an exhaustive list of defects but rather are four problem areas which cause the structure to be invalid. The Judicial Council finds numerous bases for declaring the new structure of the Kansas West Conference unconstitutional. The Judicial Council details the following two bases for the purpose of illustration. First, the structure of the Kansas West Conference is invalid in that the new structure was adopted before the amendment to constitutional ¶ 15.15 was ratified by the Council of Bishops and because the General Conference has not passed appropriate enabling legislation. Decision 815 clearly states: 1. 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 ¶ 15.15 of the Constitution until such time as the General Conference passes appropriate enabling legislation. 2. There is no General Conference legislation adopted which enables an Annual Conference to restructure in accordance with ¶ 15.15 of the Constitution. Decision 815 states unequivocally that any Annual Conference action to restructure in anticipation of the ratification of ¶ 15.15 "is moot, null and void" as antedating the passage, ratification and effective date of the amendment. Even if the new structure had been adopted after the amendment to constitutional ¶ 15.15 had been ratified, it would still be unconstitutional because the General Conference has not passed enabling legislation to permit an Annual Conference to structure its ministry in ways that are unique to its mission. Wisdom dictates that an Annual Conference should delay restructuring until General Conference adopts enabling legislation under ¶ 15.15 of the Constitution. Second, the action of the Kansas West Annual Conference is unconstitutional in that it usurps the mandated authority of the General Conference over all matters distinctively connectional. 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 all connectional enterprises of the Church and to provide boards for their promotion and administration. ... In addition ¶ 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. 1. 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. Annual Conferences must include within their structure conference entities which correspond to the general boards and agencies mandated by the General Conference. In the Kansas West structure these functions are assigned to the Conference Council. The structure documents says: The Council shall be mandated to address and provide for the function and issues of these agencies in whatever way the Council deems most efficient. The Council could create an entity (entities) necessary to accomplish this task: committees, task groups, ministry teams, boards, etc. The Council can also dissolve any entity as needs change. . . Making the "Council" responsible for providing for the functions of General Agencies and the connectional relationships with General Agencies without specifying the conference entities which will carry out the functions and the relationships is in direct conflict with Decision 815 which states: Any General Conference enabling legislation enacted to define "to allow annual conferences to utilize structures unique to their mission. . ." must preserve the connectional system. Not only does the General Conference have 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. The Judicial Council in Decisions 339, 411, 640, 680, 712, and 815 has consistently ruled that the existence of mandated structures at the general church level requires parallel structures at the Annual Conference level as an expression of the connectional principles that bind us together in our collective ministry. The Judicial Council commends Bishop Alfred Frederick Mutti for his prudence and wisdom in delaying implementation of the restructure plan until the Judicial Council’s consideration of this matter. The new structure adopted by the Kansas West Annual Conference is unconstitutional.

Decision

The action of the Kansas West Annual Conference in adopting a new conference structure is invalid because it conflicts with certain requirements established by the General Conference and is therefore void and of no effect. The current Annual Conference structure shall remain in effect. There can be no restructuring by an Annual Conference pursuant to amended ¶ 15.15 of the Constitution until such time as the General Conference adopts appropriate enabling legislation. This copy subject to final editing and correction.

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