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Memorandum No. 948

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October 24 2002
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Alaska Missionary Conference Related to the Process of Discontinuance of a Local Church.

Digest of Case

Bishop Edward W. Paup is not affirmed in his decision of law and is directed to answer the questions that were posed to him, submit them as an addendum item to the conference journal and forward his answers to the Judicial Council within ninety days of the publication of this decision.

Statement of Facts

During the regular session of the Alaska Missionary Conference, on May 30, 2002, a lay member to the annual conference submitted three categories of questions of law related to the discontinuance of a local church. The questions of law submitted in writing to the bishop were: Question of Law No. 1- Discipline ¶ 2548.2-Discontinuance, ¶ 213-Assessment ¶ 201-204-Organized and Incorporated Can a Regional Superintendent… bring a recommendation of discontinuance of St. Paul United Methodist Church of Fairbanks Alaska without following the prescribed directions of General Conference as defined in 2548.2-Discontinuance? Can a Bishop and Cabinet recommend discontinuance on the basis that a local church no longer serves the purpose for which it was organized and incorporated, 201-204, without communicating specifically to the local church how it no longer serves the purpose as defined in 201-204? Question of Law No 2- Discipline ¶ 604.14- Closed Sessions Can the “discontinuance” of St. Paul UMC, Fairbanks, Alaska be discussed and planned in a closed meeting, as defined in 604.14 of the Cabinet or the Administrative Unit of the Alaska Missionary Conference in Anchorage? Can the Cabinet and the Administrative Unit of the Alaska Missionary Conference deny St. Paul UMC Fairbanks, Alaska the minutes or information shared at the closed session, as defined in 604.4, at which St. Paul’s “discontinuance” (sic) was decided? Question of Law No. 3-Constitution: Part I/Division One ¶ 4, Article 4- Inclusiveness of the Church; ¶ 138-The Mission and Ministry of the Church, Section VI-Called to Inclusiveness; ¶ 242 b-Seeking Inclusiveness Can the regional superintendent…. the Cabinet and the Administrative Unit of the Alaska Missionary Conference “discontinue” a church, St Paul UMC, Fairbanks, Alaska, because it refuses to exclude certain persons from leadership? The bishop responded to the questions of law on June 1, 2002, at the final session of the annual conference session. At that time the bishop stated his determination was that the queries were not questions of law but were formulated as requests for declaratory decisions. There is no indication that the Alaska Missionary Annual Conference sought a declaratory decision. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2000 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale This issue relates to an annual conference proceeding in which the bishop determined that questions posed to him were not questions of law but requests for declaratory decisions. In evaluating the questions that were submitted to the bishop it is our determination that they were proper questions of law. In Decision 29 the Judicial Council determined that a board of trustees that was foreclosed from directly appealing a matter to the Judicial Council did have a remedy. In that instance the board of trustees was instructed that there was a provision for having their question of law addressed in a quarterly conference and subsequently acted upon by the presiding bishop of the annual conference. In the instant case the questions that were posed by the lay member of the Alaska Missionary Conference were made in a timely and appropriate fashion. Consistent with Decision 29, it is our determination that the questions of law were properly made and should have been answered by the bishop. The procedural requirements for asking questions of law were followed. In Decision 799 we said, “a so-called ‘question of law’, though properly presented, must relate to the business, consideration or discussion of the conference session.” At the time the question was asked, the annual conference was deliberating a petition calling for the discontinuance of the particular local church. This was the appropriate time for raising an applicable question of law pertaining to the procedures that led to the decision to discontinue the church. There are no procedural provisions within parliamentary procedure or church law which allow bishops to interpret whether a matter is a question of law or fits within the category of a request for a declaratory decision. Therefore, the bishop must answer the questions that were asked at the regular session of the annual conference. His response must be added as an addendum to the annual conference journal in order to fulfill the requirements of ¶ 49 of the 2000 Discipline. The Judicial Council directs the bishop to submit his answers to the Judicial Council within ninety days of the publication of this decision.

Decision

Bishop Edward W. Paup is not affirmed in his decision of law and is directed to answer the questions that were posed to him, submit them as an addendum item to the conference journal and forward his answers to the Judicial Council within ninety days of the publication of this decision.

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