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Decision No. 904

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October 26 2000
In Re: Ruling From the Judicial Court of the Northern Europe Central Conference in Response to a Request From the Judicial Council in Decision 859 for a Ruling on the Norway Annual Conference Structure.

Digest of Case

Adaptations made by the Northern Europe Central Conference to the Discipline pursuant to which the Norway Annual Conference eliminated the annual conference board of laity, combined the functions of the annual conference council on finance and administration with the Main Board, and permitted the Main Board to make personnel decisions with respect to the annual conference treasurer are unconstitutional.

Statement of Facts

During the 1998 session of the Norway Annual Conference, the presiding bishop, Hans Vaxby, was asked to rule on a series of five questions of law submitted in writing to the bishop during the regular business of the session. The five questions of law pertained to the legality of the structure of the Annual Conference and related matters. By action at its 1995 session, the Annual Conference eliminated the board of laity. By action at its 1997 session, the Annual Conference invested certain personnel functions in its Main Board, and placed both program and financial functions under the jurisdiction of its Main Board. The questions of law submitted in writing during the 1998 session challenged these actions of the 1995 and the 1997 Annual Conference sessions. The questions of law and the bishop’s decision are set forth in Decision 848. In summary, the bishop’s decision upheld the legality of the actions challenged in the submitted questions of law. In accordance with ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline, the bishop’s decision was reviewed by the Judicial Council in Decision 848. The Judicial Council did not affirm the bishop’s decision and remanded the matter to the Annual Conference for correction. The Judicial Council retained jurisdiction to review the further action of the Annual Conference. The bishop then petitioned for reconsideration of Decision 848. In Decision 859, the Judicial Council withdrew Decision 848 and stated: . . .n restructuring its administration and work, the Norway Annual Conference was operating within the parameters of ¶¶ 29.5 and 537.21 [of the 1996 Discipline]. Nevertheless, we stop short of affirming the bishop’s decision of law because we believe that the matter is now more properly within the jurisdiction of the Judicial Court of the Northern Europe Central Conference. The Judicial Council referred the matter to the Northern Europe Judicial Court pursuant to ¶537.33 of the 1996 Discipline for decision and retained jurisdiction awaiting the decision of that Court. On March 29, 2000, the Northern Europe Judicial Court issued its decision. A copy of that decision is attached to this decision as an Appendix. The Northern Europe Judicial Court, with some modifications, upheld the actions of the Norway Annual Conference pursuant to the Northern Europe Discipline. Nevertheless, the Northern Europe Judicial Court specifically did not decide "whether the restructuring is in accordance with the Constitution” holding that such a question rests outside its “area of competence.” Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has retained jurisdiction under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Acting pursuant to ¶ 537.33 of the 1996 Discipline, the Northern Europe Judicial Court has determined that the actions of the Norway Annual Conference challenged here, subject to the modifications addressed in its opinion, are in compliance with adaptations contained in the Northern Europe Discipline. The Northern Europe Judicial Court has properly noted, however, that whether the adaptations to the Discipline made by the Northern Europe Central Conference are constitutional is beyond its authority. Par. 537.33 of the 1996 Discipline grants the judicial court of a central conference jurisdiction only to determine the legality of any action of an annual conference taken under the adapted portions of the Discipline and not to determine the constitutionality of such adaptations made by the central conference. Such a determination must be made by the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council held in Decision 142 that a central conference’s adaptations of the Discipline are unconstitutional where such adaptations are contrary to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. The Judicial Council also held in Decision 147 that a central conference in making adaptations to the Discipline may not legislate in direct opposition to legislation already enacted by the General Conference. As noted in Decision 147, "[t]o hold otherwise would be to vest in the Central Conferences the power to accept or reject at will the legislation of the General Conference of The Methodist Church or to concede that the General Conference can delegate its legislative powers.” Finally, the Judicial Council held in Decision 313 that a central conference cannot make adaptations on matters that are “distinctively connectional” where the General Conference has acted preempting adaptations. The adaptations at issue here fall into two categories. First, the Northern Europe Central Conference has adapted the Discipline to permit its annual conferences to eliminate the conference board of laity. Second, since at least 1976, the Northern Europe Central Conference Book of Discipline has provided that the Main Board could act as the annual conference council on finance and administration, the annual conference working or executive committee, the annual conference board of trustees, the annual conference board on church building and the annual conference committee on ecumenical concerns. Whether such adaptations are permissible under the Constitution of The United Methodist Church and the Discipline have never been addressed by the Judicial Council. The Adaptation Permitting Elimination Of A Conference Board Of Laity. In Decision 815, the Judicial Council held that “[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.” Annual conferences located outside the United States and within areas encompassed by central conferences are subject to the constitutional and disciplinary provisions with respect to an annual conference board of laity. The General Conference has adopted legislation on a matter which is distinctively connectional, namely the general church’s relationship to the laity of the church. The General Conference has established a General Board of Discipleship, which has the responsibility, among others, of promoting and administering the connectional enterprise of the ministry of the laity (¶ 1115). The General Conference has mandated that annual conferences are to have a conference board of laity or an equivalent structure which will relate connectionally to the General Board of Discipleship (¶ 630.1). The General Conference has not enacted legislation which would have permitted central conferences or annual conferences to combine the annual conference board of laity with other annual conference boards, such as the annual conference board of discipleship. While ¶ 29.5 of the Discipline authorizes the central conferences to “make such rules and regulations for the administration of the work within their boundaries including such changes and adaptation of the General Discipline as the conditions in the respective areas may require,” any such changes and adaptations are “subject to the powers that have been or shall be vested in the General Conference.” As noted in Decision 313, a central conference cannot make adaptations where the General Conference has acted on a matter distinctively connectional, thereby preempting changes or adaptations. The General Conference’s mandate of an annual conference board of laity represents legislation of the General Conference on a matter distinctively connectional, and thereby preempts a change or adaptation to such a disciplinary requirement by a central conference by the power granted in ¶ 29.5 of the Discipline. The Northern Europe Central Conference could not make an adaptation of the General Discipline to permit annual conferences under its jurisdiction to eliminate an annual conference board of laity. The bishop correctly held that the Norway Annual Conference’s elimination of the annual conference board of laity was permitted pursuant to the adaptation made by the central conference. Nevertheless, the bishop’s ruling that the Annual Conference was legally organized after eliminating the annual conference board of laity is not affirmed because the elimination was made pursuant to an adaptation which violates ¶ 29.5 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. The Northern Europe Central Conference is directed to remove the adaptation permitting annual conferences to eliminate the annual conference board of laity from its central conference Discipline. The Norway Annual Conference is directed to restore the annual conference board of laity. The Adaptation Permitting The Combination Of Various Annual Conference Functions In A Main Board. The Norway Annual Conference, acting pursuant to adaptations made by the Northern Europe Central Conference, has created a Main Board which combined a number of functions in one body between sessions of the annual conference, namely, the functions of the annual conference council on finance and administration, the annual conference working or executive committee, the annual conference board of trustees, the annual conference board on church building and the annual conference committee on ecumenical concerns. Par. 607 provides: “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.” Par. 607.1 provides: “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 adaptation made by the Northern Europe Central Conference permits the functions of the annual conference council on finance and administration to be combined with other functions as part of the responsibilities of the Main Board. This adaptation is unconstitutional. The General Conference has adopted legislation on this distinctively connectional matter preempting adaptation by the central conferences. Par. 608 mandates that each annual conference have an annual conference council on finance and administration. The annual conference council on finance and administration is to be amenable and report directly to the annual conference. (¶ 609.6) Par. 609.7(a) provides that the “council [on finance and administration] and the annual conference council on ministries shall cooperate in the development of the conference benevolences budget (¶ 611.3).” Combining the financial functions of the annual conference council on finance and administration with the program functions handled by the annual conference working or executive committee violates ¶¶ 608 and 609, in that it eliminates a system of checks and balances specifically legislated by the General Conference which provided for separation of powers and authority. ( Decision 827) The structure adopted by the Norway Annual Conference at its 1997 session also specified that the Main Board was to perform the functions of a personnel committee, hiring, reviewing, evaluating, removing and managing all employed personnel of the annual conference, including the conference treasurer. This action was taken pursuant to an adaptation to the Discipline made by the Northern Europe Central Conference. The adaptation and the action of the 1997 session of the Norway Annual Conference is unconstitutional. As the Judicial Council held in Decision 827, personnel actions with respect to the annual conference treasurer are solely within the responsibilities of the annual conference council on finance and administration, ¶ 616, which, as noted above, must be separate from the Main Board. The bishop correctly held that the Norway Annual Conference’s action combining the work of the annual conference council on finance and administration with the work of the Main Board, and entrusting personnel decisions with respect to the annual conference treasurer to the Main Board was permitted pursuant to adaptations made by the central conference. Nevertheless, the bishop’s decision that the Annual Conference was legally organized after adopting this structure is not affirmed because the structure adopted violates ¶ 29.5 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. The Northern Europe Central Conference is directed to remove the adaptations permitting the work of the annual conference on finance and administration to be combined with the work of the Main Board, and permitting personnel decisions with respect to the annual conference treasurer to be made by the Main Board. The Norway Annual Conference is directed to adopt a structure which divides the functions of the annual conference council on finance and administration, and the Main Board, and which entrusts personnel decisions with respect to the annual conference treasurer only to the annual conference council on finance and administration.

Decision

The following adaptations made by the Northern Europe Central Conference to the Discipline under which the Norway Annual Conference developed its structure are unconstitutional: eliminating the annual conference board of laity, combining the functions of the annual conference council on finance and administration with the Main Board, and permitting the Main Board to make personnel decisions with respect to the annual conference treasurer. The decision of the bishop is not affirmed in this regard. This matter is remanded to the Northern Europe Central Conference and to the Norway Annual Conference for action consistent with this decision. Such actions are to be returned to the Judicial Council, which retains jurisdiction for review and approval.

The Judicial Court of the Northern Europe Central Conference The United Methodist Church of the Nordic and Baltic Area Ruling regarding whether the organization of the Norwegian Annual Conference is in accordance with the North European Book of Discipline (“Metodistkirkens Lære- og Kirkeordning”). The Judicial Council of the Northern Europe Central Conference, according to the North European Book of Discipline § 537.33, has discussed and ruled on the matter of interpreting whether the organization of the Annual Conference of The Methodist Church in Norway is in accordance with the North European Book of Discipline. From Judicial Council of the the General Conference, a referral of the request of Ole-Einar Andersen from June 1998, is forwarded to be acted upon by the Northern Europe Central Conference's Judicial Council, in regard to bishop Hans Växby's proposed interpretation of the legality of the June 1997 decision of the Norwegian Annual Conference to approve a new conference structure. In decision #847, the General Conference's Judicial Council had discussed and reached a decision regarding the legality of the Annual Conference's organization, and has since, in memorandum #859, withdrawn its ruling. In memorandum #859, deliberations concerning the accuracy of the judicial interpretation were likewise referred to the Northern Europe Central Conference's Judicial Council. The forwarding of this juridical interpretation has taken place in lieu of the Judicial Council's finding, that the Norwegian Annual Conference has worked within the applicable laws of the North European Book of Discipline, of which adaptations by the Book of Discipline have occurred on the basis of decisions within the North Europen Book of Discipline § 29.5, § 537.9 and § 537.21, which deal with the Central Conference's right to draw up their own provisions and accomodate them to parts of the Book of Discipline. This adaptation should take place in accordance with the authority invested by the General Conference. ___________________________ The following 5 points are not thoroughly examined, but alone constitute a synopsis of the 5 judicial interpretations, around which the case revolves: 1. The bishop was inquired if the restructuring of the Norwegian Annual Conference is legal according to the amendments to the Methodist Constitution, paragraph 2, section II, article VI, pt. 15 (Discipline § 15.15), since these amendments had not been followed up on by a law giving the Annual Conference such authority to decide. The bishop responded that his interpretation of the restructuring, which was decided upon by the Norwegian Annual Conference, did not happen according to § 15.15, but was made out of consideration for preservation of the connectional structure, and that a change in the area of responsibility of the Council did not occur. Furthermore, the new structure is not in conflict with the authority assumed by the Council on Finance and Administration and the Council on Ministries. In his recommendation to the Judicial Council regarding a re-evaluation of the decision on memorandum #847, the bishop furthermore referred to paragraphs in the North Europen Book of Discipline on the Annual Conference's Executive Committee, in that the paragraphs since 1976 have become distinct from The Book of Discipline's paragraphs on the Annual Conference's Council on Finance and Administration and Council on Ministries. 2. The bishop was inquired whether the Annual Conference can be legally organized since it has dissolved the Laity Council. The bishop responded that the 1995 Annual Conference voted to disband the Laity Council, effective from 1996, and that all functions and areas of responsibility be transferred to the Board of Home Missions, thus maintaining the connectional structure. 3. The bishop was inquired about the applicability and legality of the organizational plan for the Norwegian Annual Conference, approved in 1997, by, among other things, referring to the Judicial Council's determination that the Kansas West Annual Conference's organization is problematic on several points. The bishop responded that there is no comparison between the organizational plan of Kansas West and the approved organizational plan of the Norwegian Annual Conference. 4. The bishop was asked if the "check and balance" system is functional in the new organizational plan since the Executive Committee serves concurrently as economic administrator while controlling administration. The bishop responded that in light of the North European Central Conference's adaptation of the Discipline, going back to 1976, the Executive Committee serves both as the Annual Conference's Council on Finance and Administration, and the Annual Conference's Council on Ministries. 5. The bishop was inquired about the legality of Hovedstyret (the Main Board) altering the Conference's work schedule without authorization from the Annual Conference. The bishop responded that no changes have occurred for the 1998 Annual Conference and there was no break from § 605, in that it was stated that the Annual Conference had the opportunity to single out certain isues that were treated compositely during the plenum. ________________________ In light of the need to make a statement about the legality of the North European Central Conference's adaptations, the Central Conference's Judicial Council has reached the following decisions regarding the above 5 judicial interpretations: re. pts. 1,3 and 4 The Judicial Council's perception of the interpretation regarding the restructuring of the Norwegian Annual Conference is that it is accurate, in that it falls in under the North European Central Conference's adaptation of the Discipline, and therefore the bishop's judicial interpretation must belong under the Central Conference Judicial Council's jurisdiction, and the Council may draw a conclusion regarding the bishop's interpretation. The bishop's interpretation of the restructuring did not take place by referral to additions to the Discipline's § 15.15 (Additions to the the Constitution's paragraph 2, section II, article VI pt. 15: "... to seek to organize, promote and administrate the work of the church outside the United States, to allow the Annual Conference to make use of a structure particular to it's task, without regard for different approved structures...") is thus correct. The restructuring of the Norwegian Annual Conference took place by referral to the North European Discipline, which in § 608-615, 616 and 626 determines the tasks of Hovedstyret (the Main Board), and in § 628-632 and § 637-643 mentions the remaining conference bodies, which are impacted by the restructuring. Restructuring, which assigns the work tasks of several Annual Conference bodies to fewer bodies or councils is not wrong in principle, but possible and correct, if the Annual Conference agrees in light of the Discipline § 626, which states that an Annual Conference can be organized in it's own way on the basis of the formulation of the Annual Conference... can choose a Conference Council... (§ 628.3) or, .... shall vote ... or ... shall have .... or other arrangement which implements these functions... (§ 629, 630, 632, 638, 643). It does not appear that the restructuring should have as its purpose the reduction of the North European book of Discipline's necessary functions, but alone has the intention of creating a different way of determining the functions and work tasks. Of the original suggestion to the 1997 Annual conference in Porsgrunn, it does not clearly appear which of the 3 work areas (work area on Diaconal services, Commission on Missions and Home Missions Board) would assume which of the functions and tasks that the North European Book of Discipline enumerates for other conference bodies in § 628-632 and § 637-643. In the meantime, this relationship was changed at the 1999 Annual Conference, such that there is now a clear division of function, and thereby in accordance with the North European Book of Discipline. For the time being, the following councils and organizations have special positions, according to the North European Book of Discipline: § 631 Council with responsibility for foreign mission; § 633 Board of Ordained Ministry: § 644 Women's Division; and § 646 Conference Council on Youth Ministries, whereby the following remarks can be made: 1. Hovedstyret (The Main Board) thus does not override the following organizations: (Board of Missions, Board of Ordained Ministry, Conference Council on Youth Ministries), and this work area (Women's Division) in this context, and thus does not override the Commission on Missions, which the 1999 Annual Conference assumes. An Annual Conference has the possibility for organizing itself as it chooses, so long as the functional and connectional structure demanded by the North European Book of Discipline is maintained. It would thus be possible to define the work areas relation to and authorization for the Councils mentioned in § 628.3, § 629, § 630, § 632, § 638 and § 643, but not for the Councils mentioned in § 631, 633, 644 and 646, since these Councils are clearly defined and the paragraghs written in the Discipline are unambiguous. Therefore, the question regarding Hovedstyret’s (The Main Board’s) delegation of work assignments and the competance of the work area on Missions is irrelevant, since the Missions Board, in persuance of the North European Book of Discipline § 631.2-10, has tasks and qualifications defined by the Annual Conference. Hence it follows that the organization of the Norwegian Annual Conference regarding the Commission on Missions as subservient to Hovedstyret (The Main Board) is not in accordance with the North European Book of Discipline. 2. Since the formulation, Hovedstyret (The Main Board) shall approve all budgets worked out by the work areas and the Methodist Church's Youth Council..." (page 23 in the protocol for the 1997 Annual Conference in Porsgrunn), has been changed to, "Hovedstyret (The Main Board) shall consider all budgets worked out by work areas and the Methodist Church's Youth Council, and promote these and the Treasurers budget for approval by the Annual Conference..." (‘approve ‘ changed to ‘consider’) (point 2. Hovedstyret (The Main Board) and point 5 Budjett og Regnskab page 37, point 2 Hovedstyret og budget og regnskab page 38 in the protocol for the Annual Conference in Bergen 1999), this function of the Hovedstyret (The Main Board) is thus regarded to be in accordance with the North European Book Discipline. Should the "check and balance" system in regard to the arrangement with the Executive Committee be found lacking, it is not due to the lack of accord with the North European Book Discipline's provisions regarding the Executive Committee, but rather the Discipline's own provisions. Regarding economic administration in connection with restructuring, work areas are not given less control than other Annual Conference organs are given before restructuring. The Central Conference's Judicial Council has not decided on the matter regarding whether the restructuring (pt. 3 of Ole-Einar Andersen's question) is in accordance with the Constitution, in that the Constitution cannot be adopted or adjusted by the Central Conference, which is why this question rests outside the Central Conference Judicial Council's area of competence. re. pt. 2 Without drawing an opinion on the legality of the abolition of the Laity Council in 1996, the dissolution of the Council and the reassignment of its work tasks and responsibility over to the Home Missions Board is, at the current time, in accordance with the 1997 North European Discipline, on the background of the statement in § 630. Since this paragraph is one that accommodates the North European Central Conference, the Central Conference Judicial Council has, at this time, jurisdiction in the matter of legal interpretation of this question. § 630 in the 1997 version of the North European Book of Discipline allows for another arrangement for the Laity Council, as long as the Council's tasks are managed by another work area. This was specified by the 1999 Annual Conference in Bergen, in that the Home Missions Board assumed responsibility for the Laity Council's work areas (see page 34 in the 1999 Annual Conference protocol). re. pt. 5 Since this question and the answer belong under the unadapted part of the Discipline, namely §604.1 and § 605.2, the extent of accordance with the Discipline has not been juridically acted upon. It can at any rate be named that during the oral presentation of the agenda and materials for the 1998 Annual Conference in Oslo, it was intimated that if the delegates wished to state objections to the agenda and work groups, or focus on single matters that were being treated compositely, there would be afforded the opportunity to do so. From the protocol for the 1998 Norwegian Annual Conference, there appears on p. 87, pt. 9, that points were singled out of issues that were to be treated compositely and discussed during the plenum. From the same minutes, in point 10 there appears that the legislation was approved after several amendments. This seems to clarify that Hovedstyret (the Main Board) did not act independently of the Annual Conference or by their own hand alter the procedure of the Annual Conference. Submitted and passed at the Judicial Courts meeting in Stockholm, the 29th of March, 2000. Finn Uth, Chairman for the Central Conference's Judicial Court Other members: Steinar Hjerpseth, secretary -- Meeli Tankler -- Christer Lundgren -- Per Wallsted, substitute translated by Mark Lewis Dissenting Opinion In our opinion the Central Conferences are given the power to adapt the Discipline by ¶¶ 29 and 537 of the 1996 Discipline. The changes made by the Northern Europe Central Conference are within the disciplinary authority given to the Central Conferences. None of the specific changes involved here were new; they have been in place since 1976. We believe the General Conference in ¶ 537 intended to authorize just such a result as the adaptations by the Northern European Central Conference. While we believe these changes are authorized by the Constitution in ¶ 29 and the related enabling legislation in ¶ 537, ¶ 537 has become so long and unwieldy that confusion will undoubtedly continue to arise on its meaning. Some of the 33 subsections are very specific; others are very general. Possibly the General Conference needs to look at this paragraph and consider breaking it into several paragraphs or making the language more specific so that the Central Conferences will have clear direction on what they can and cannot do in modifying the Discipline for the situations existing in that area of the world. The United Methodist Church is a global church. It is important that the annual conferences in the United States do not force our organizational patterns on the central conferences. Allowing these central conferences to adapt certain parts of the Discipline to the situation in their part of the world affirms that we are a world church. Sally Curtis AsKew Rodolfo C. Beltran Sally Brown Geis Larry D Pickens

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