Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 835
October 29 1998
In Re: Review of Bishop's Decision of Law in the Louisiana Annual Conference on the Structure of the Annual Conference. Request from the Holston Annual Conference on the Constitutionality of the "Design for Ministry" Restructure Plan.
Digest of Case
Louisiana Annual Conference Structure Plan: The bishop's ruling that the structure of the Louisiana Annual Conference is in compliance with the 1996 Discipline of The United Methodist Church, as well as the rulings of the Judicial Council, is reversed. The Louisiana Annual Conference structure plan is hereby remanded to the Louisiana Annual Conference to be revised accordingly and resubmitted to the council for review and approval.. Holston Annual Conference Restructure Plan: The Holston Annual Conference structure plan is so vague as to be unconstitutional. It does not maintain connectional relationships as required by the 1996 Discipline and Decision 815. The Holston Annual Conference structure plan is hereby remanded to the Holston Annual Conference to be revised accordingly and resubmitted to the council for review and approval.
Statement of Facts
Louisiana Annual Conference Structure Plan: The Louisiana Annual Conference at its session on June 5, 1997, voted to adopt certain revisions to its conference structure effective January 1, 1998. Even though the Judicial Council was not provided with a copy of the conference structure prior to the June, 1997 session, nor the actual proposed revisions, it appears from the bishop's brief that basically the revised structure provided for the creation of a Conference Ministry Team, District Ministry Teams and a Conference Values Team. The Conference Ministry Team was to be chaired by the bishop and composed of a membership which included district superintendents, conference and district lay leaders, and others. The function of this group included, evidently, the programmatic functions of the conference. The revised structure eliminated the Board of Discipleship, Board of Global Ministries, Board of Church and Society, Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, Commission on Religion and Race, Commission on Status and Role of Women, Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. As a result of concerns raised about the legality of some parts of the structure in the Fall of 1997, the Louisiana Annual Conference at its June, 1998 session adopted certain changes which included reinstating, at least in name, the Board of Discipleship, Board of Global Ministries, Board of Church and Society, Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, Commission on Religion and Race, Commission on Status and Role of Women, Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. The "Daily Proceedings" indicated errors in the preprinted material about the structure which were corrected after the vote, but which evidently caused some confusion during the consideration of the matter. Under the revised structure, the Conference Mission Team consists of the membership of all of the reinstated boards with a chairperson of the boards being elected at the Annual Conference. The same membership applies to some of the commissions of the conference as well. There were other revisions to the structure which are not necessary for the council's consideration. Following the adoption of the revisions to the conference structure, Dr. Nancy M. Carruth, a lay member to the conference, requested that the bishop render a decision of law as to the legality of the adopted structure. The bishop ruled that "the Structure as now revised by the action of the Louisiana Conference in its regular session on June 9, 1998 is in compliance with the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, as well as the rulings of the Judicial Council". Holston Annual Conference Structure Plan: This matter is before the Judicial Council arising out of the adoption of a report entitled "Design for Ministry" and a subsequent report for additional changes, all adopted in the 1998 session of the Holston Annual Conference. It was adopted with the provision that the design would be submitted to the Judicial Council for review prior to implementation. Oral hearing on the Holston structure was presented on October 29, 1998 at Rockville United Methodist Church, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania by Zane Scott and Gary Grogg. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline as to the Louisiana Annual Conference and ¶ 2616 as to the Holston Annual Conference. Analysis and Rationale A review of the conference structure of the Louisiana Annual Conference discloses major deficiencies in complying with the Discipline and Judicial Council Decisions. Decision 815 sets forth the constitutional and disciplinary requirements for conference structure, which includes the connectional relationships. Decision 815 quotes the disciplinary requirement that: The annual conference is responsible for structuring its ministry 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. The Constitution and legislation providing for the connectional relationships throughout the denomination are more than simply a requirement for an organizational chart listing boards and agencies, names and addresses. The connectional relationships have resulted in the creation and maintenance of colleges, universities, schools of theology, hospitals, orphanages, retirement homes, health care centers, publishing house, relief efforts, food and love for the impoverished, prison ministries, hope for the hopeless, and other causes and needs too numerous to mention. It would not be an understatement to say that without the connectional system in The United Methodist Church, many of these great ministries would not have been accomplished. It is a foundation of the United Methodist polity. It is obvious from a reading of the revised structure of the Louisiana Annual Conference that, in an attempt to comply with the constitutional and disciplinary provisions of the Discipline, the Conference Ministry Team was relabeled to include the Board of Discipleship, Board of Global Ministries, Board of Church and Society, Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, and Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. Such action fails to meet the requirements set forth in previous Judicial Council Decisions and denies the conference membership the representative participation and involvement of a body of people dedicated to the purposes and causes set forth in the Discipline for these bodies. It also denies the purposes for which these bodies were created, the benefits of the connectional system. See Decisions 314, 339, 411, 417, 418, 640, 680, 815, 827, and 831. There are other matters in the Louisiana Annual Conference structure which are required to be addressed, such as the power and authority of the bishop as discussed in Decision 831. These and other matters are to be reviewed and brought in compliance with the applicable disciplinary provisions and Judicial Council Decisions. In regard to the Holston Annual Conference Structure, the Design Team is to be commended for its detailed and exacting wording which, for the most part, outlined very clearly new processes and structures for decision making. In reference to another proposal intended to have the same result, the Judicial Council ruled: 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 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 ¶ 630; (2) maintain the connectional objectives and relationship with the General Board of Discipleship as cited in ¶¶ 1101-1125. (Decision 815) The council also ruled: There is no General Conference legislation adopted which enables an Annual Conference to restructure in accordance with ¶ 15.15 of the Constitution. 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. (Decision 815) Therefore, this legislation was held void and of no effect until such enabling legislation is passed. The council also said : 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 815) For example, in the Holston Annual Conference Plan, there is a provision for a "staff implementation team". The proposal defines what that means, but it has a "catch all" provision stating basically that "all teams assume the function of the existing boards and commissions." This is too general and is an improper delegation of authority. For example, with regard to the leadership resources team, structures are somewhat spelled out, but that section then closes: PLEASE NOTE THAT THE FACILITATING TEAMS HAVE A MISSION TO CARRY OUT THE MINISTRY OF THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE, FULFILL REQUIREMENTS OF THE DISCIPLINE IN STRUCTURING THEMSELVES IN MAKING CONNECTIONS TO THE GENERAL CHURCH. The council could go through the whole plan and find the same type of problems. These duties and responsibilities should have been spelled out in the plan before it was adopted by the Annual Conference. The plan also must be clear as to the connectional functions that cover the responsibilities of a local church, a district, an Annual, Jurisdictional Conference, and the General Conference. The Holston Annual Conference plan further states: The Design for Ministry retains in the core structure several existing conference groups and has not addressed the requirement or group size of these bodies. This is not acceptable. For an Annual Conference to have confidence in adopting a structure it must delineate what bodies are going to take the bodies of existing conference groups as well as the requirements for membership. The connectional relationships must be maintained. In summary, although not exhaustive in the listing, the council strongly affirms the following guidelines for proper facilitation of any change of structure by any Annual Conference in accordance with the 1996 Discipline: 1. All boards, commissions, and committees mandated by the Discipline shall be maintained, clearly identified and defined, and the connectional relationships shall be clear and obvious. The name of any equivalent structure must be defined by name, function, connection and membership. 2. An Annual Conference cannot vote to approve, disapprove or modify the Discipline in development of a structure plan. The mandated boards, commissions, and committees cannot be removed or reinstated in restructuring. The mandated boards, commissions, and committees simply must exist. 3. The delegation of functions of the mandated boards, commissions, and committees is improper. 4. The connectional relationships and functions cannot be on paper only, but must be legitimate, working connections and functions with appropriately adopted budgets finally approved by the Annual Conference. 5. The prescribed number of members, the method of nomination and election, fixed terms and diversity of membership must be exactly as stated in the 1996 Discipline. This disciplinary mandate is applicable to any equivalent for boards, commissions, and committees for which the "disciplinary name" has been changed. 6. Annual Conference rules on structure which constitute a vote on the Discipline are improper. (Decisions 476, 700 and 714.) 7. The method of funding each structure must be defined in the adopted plan, including submission in the prescribed manner in the 1996 Discipline, to the Conference Council on Finance and Administration and for final action by the Annual Conference. 8. Connectional relationships must encompass the local church, district, Annual Conference and General Conference where mandated by the 1996 Discipline. 9. Conferences are urged to give careful attention to the 1996 Discipline and review previous decisions ( See Decisions 314, 339, 411, 417, 418, 640, 680, 815, 827, and 831.)
The bishop's ruling that the structure of the Louisiana Annual Conference is in compliance with the 1996 Discipline of The United Methodist Church, as well as the rulings of the Judicial Council, is reversed. The Louisiana Annual Conference structure plan is hereby remanded to the Louisiana Annual Conference to be revised accordingly and resubmitted to the Judicial Council for review and approval. The Holston Annual Conference structure plan is so vague as to be unconstitutional. It does not maintain connectional relationships as required by the 1996 Discipline and Decision 815. The Holston Annual Conference structure plan is hereby remanded to the Holston Annual Conference to be revised accordingly and resubmitted to the Judicial Council for review and approval.