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Decision No. 937

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October 24 2002
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Wisconsin Annual Conference Related to Licensing and Appointment of a Local Pastor.

Statement of Facts

The decision of law rendered by Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader that the questions presented by a clergy member were moot and hypothetical because they were informational questions and not related to any business before the annual conference is affirmed. On Friday, June 7, 2002, during the afternoon plenary session of the Wisconsin Annual Conference, a clergy member of the annual conference presented to Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader the following supposed questions of law: Based upon Par. 344, 2-4 and 359 When a local pastor’s continuation has been recommended by the District Committee on Ordained ministry and approved by the Clergy Session of the Annual Conference, and their appointment is continued by the Bishop, may the District Committee on Ordained Ministry legally rescind its recommendation during that Conference year, and withdraw the continuation of license that had been approved by the Clergy Session without passing through the complaint process of Par. 359? Based upon Par. 304, 305, 306.4, and 307 Whereas, the qualifications for ordination and candidacy within the United Methodist Church are outlined in Par. 304, 305, 306.4 and 307, and the duties of the pastor are outlined in Par. 331 and 332, may a District Committee on Ordained Ministry legally refuse to recommend continued licensing for a local pastor for a reason not included in these paragraphs, namely, the decision of the local congregation not to pay a Conference obligation, such as payment of health insurance premiums? Based upon Par. 416.1 Because it is the responsibility of the bishop to make and fix appointments (Par. 416.1), may a bishop legally withhold the appointment of pastoral leadership to a pastoral charge for any reason, and particularly for that congregation’s refusal to pay its Conference obligations, such as health insurance premiums? The clergy member’s questions were challenged on a point of order in that the questions presented called for a hypothetical ruling on matters not related to the business of the annual conference. The clergy member subsequently presented to Bishop Rader the rationale for his questions. Bishop Rader stated during the session of the conference that it was her opinion that “both the questions and the rationale likely referred to hypothetical situations,” but reserved a definitive ruling on the questions until a later time. She subsequently ruled that the questions were moot and hypothetical. The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2000 Discipline. The Judicial Council has ruled repeatedly that questions of law must be presented in writing during a session of the annual conference, and must be germane to the business of the annual conference. The Council has ruled since Decision 33, rendered in 1946, that a bishop is not required to answer moot and hypothetical questions. (See also Decisions 396, 651,746, 762, 799) It is the opinion of the Judicial Council that the ruling by Bishop Rader that the questions presented by the clergy member were moot and hypothetical is correct. The decision of law rendered by Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader that the questions presented by the clergy member were moot and hypothetical because they were informational questions and not related to any business before the annual conference is affirmed.

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