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Decision No. 862

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October 28 1999
In Re: Request from the North Carolina Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on Whether the Requirement That a Local Pastor Be Appointed to a Pastoral Charge (Par. 602 of the 1996 Discipline) by the Bishop to Become a Member of the Annual Conference Violates Section VI, Article II of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church.

Digest of Case

Pars. 602.1and 1(d) of 1996 Discipline do not conflict with Par. 31 of the Constitution in that the Discipline and cited decisions affirm the authority of General Conference to set the standards for membership in the annual conference. The Constitution grants the power to the annual conference to determine who qualifies for membership based on given standards. The two categories of local pastors cited in Par. 602.1 and 1(d) require being approved, licensed and appointed in order to be eligible for membership in the annual conference. This standard shall be consistent for the status of the indicated two categories of local pastor.

Statement of Facts

Par. 602 states: ¶ 602. Composition and Character— 1. The clergy membership of an annual conference (¶ 364) shall consist of deacons and elders in full connection (¶ 324), probationary members (¶ 318), associate members, affiliate members (¶¶ 335.4, 559.4), and local pastors under full-time and part-time appointment to a pastoral charge (¶ 342) (See also ¶ 30.) a) Clergy members in full connection shall have the right to vote on all matters in the annual conference except in the election of lay delegates to the General and jurisdictional or central conferences and shall have sole responsibility for all matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy. b) Probationary clergy members shall have the right to vote in the annual conference on all matters except constitutional amendments, election of clergy delegates to the General and jurisdictional or central conferences, and matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy. c) Associate and affiliate clergy members shall have the right to vote in the annual conference on all matters except constitutional amendments, election of clergy delegates to the General and jurisdictional or central conferences, and matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy. d) Full-time and part-time local pastors under appointment to a pastoral charge shall have the right to vote in the annual conference on all matters except constitutional amendments; election of delegates to the General and jurisdictional or central conferences; and matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy. 2. Persons who enter candidacy for diaconal ministry prior to January 1, 1997, shall be allowed to complete candidacy, and those consecrated will serve as lay members of the annual conference as long as they maintain this status in The United Methodist Church. 3. Persons who become associate members prior to January 1, 1997, shall be allowed to continue in this relationship and serve under the provision of the 1992 Book of Discipline as long as they hold this status. Section VI, Article II related to annual conferences states: ¶ 31. Article II.—The annual conference is the basic body in the Church and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments, on the election of clergy and lay delegates to the General and the jurisdictional or central conferences, on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members, and on the ordination of clergy and such other rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution, with the exception that the lay members may not vote on matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy. It shall discharge such duties and exercise such powers as the General Conference under the Constitution may determine. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The question raised in this request for a declaratory decision is: Does the requirement that a local pastor be appointed to a Pastoral Charge (¶ 602.1 and 1.d) by the Bishop to become a member of the Annual Conference violate Section VI (¶ 31) of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church which states in part, "The annual conference is the basic body in the Church and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments, on the election of clergy and lay delegates to the General and the jurisdictional or central conferences, on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members." Meeting the standards for membership set by the General Conference is the key issue in this question. Eligibility of the local pastor for membership in the annual conference is linked to annually meeting the requirements of a given category of local pastor and being recommended annually by the District Committee on Ordained Ministry to the annual conference. Constitutionally, the final decision of membership must be made by the annual conference. With approval of such a recommendation by the annual conference, the bishop may appoint the local pastor to perform the duties of a pastor (Par. 343). This process does not violate Par. 31 of the Constitution in that the annual conference determines who is eligible. One such eligibility requirement for the full-time and part-time local pastors to be a member of the annual conference is to be under appointment. So long as these categories of local pastors are approved, licensed and appointed, they are eligible to be members of the annual conference. Such membership ceases when the required standards are not met. The annual conference exercises the authority granted under Par. 31 of the Constitution to determine which candidates shall be members of the annual conference based upon the prescribed standards fixed by the General Conference under authority of Par. 15 of the Constitution. Decisions 466, 507, 513, 536, 542, 544, 702, 742, and 743 relate to this authority. By the action prescribed in Par. 343 the issue is whether the conference membership for the status of a local pastor is determined by the constitutional authority of the annual conference to determine the conference relations of its members, or is the requirement of appointment by the bishop the determinant. Pars. 602.1and 1(d) of 1996 Discipline do not conflict with Par. 31 of the Constitution in that the Discipline and cited decisions affirm the authority of General Conference to set the standards for membership in the annual conference. See Decisions 313, 318, 339, 380, 406, and 409. The Constitution grants the power to the annual conference to determine who qualifies for membership based on such standards. These categories of local pastors require being approved, licensed and appointed in order to be eligible for membership in the annual conference. This standard shall be consistent for the status of the indicated two categories of local pastor.

Decision

Pars. 602.1and 1(d) of 1996 Discipline do not conflict with Par. 31 of the Constitution in that the Discipline and cited decisions affirm the authority of General Conference to set the standards for membership in the annual conference. The Constitution grants the power to the annual conference to determine who qualifies for membership based on given standards. The two categories of local pastors cited in Par. 602.1 and 1(d) require being approved, licensed and appointed in order to be eligible for membership in the annual conference. This standard shall be consistent for the status of the indicated two categories of local pastor.

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