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Decision No. 960

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April 26 2003
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the West Ohio Annual Conference on the Legality of a Special Clergy Session Held at a Different Time and Place from the Regular Session of the West Ohio Annual Conference.

Digest of Case

The decision of law of Bishop Bruce R. Ough is affirmed in part and reversed in part. The annual conference must hold a clergy session at the site of the regular session of the annual conference each year. If a special clergy session is to be held, the written announcement of such session must clearly identify the session as being a “special clergy session” and specifically state the agenda for the special clergy session, which may include business that must be conducted between the regular sessions. The business conducted at a special clergy session cannot take the place of or make irrelevant the regular annual session of the clergy members of the annual conference.

Statement of Facts

Pursuant to notice given February 20, 2002, a clergy session of the West Ohio Conference was convened on May 30, 2002, in Columbus, Ohio. The regular session of the annual conference convened on June 6-9, 2002, in Lakeside, Ohio. The bishop’s February 20, 2002, letter announcing the May 30, 2002, clergy session stated: I look forward to our gathering on May 30 for the 2002 Clergy Session. It is a sacred time for us to affirm our common call, do our covenant-making, welcome new colleagues, and recognize those who have served so faithfully. Again this year, we will have time on the agenda to reflect on our life together. A joint Board of Ordained Ministry and Cabinet task force has been meeting to continue the dialogue on clergy leadership development issues begun at the 2001 Clergy Session . . . . The 2002 clergy session held in Columbus, Ohio, was the fourth year that a clergy session had been held prior to the regular session of the annual conference. The invitational letters for the session held in 1999-2002 indicate the session would be held to deal with matters of clergy relationships, ordination, and conference relations. The 2002 letter, after announcing the Columbus clergy session to be held on May 30, contained the following language: “The 2002 Annual Conference Session will continue at Lakeside on June 6-9.” During the four years from 1999 to 2002, no annual clergy session was held at the site of the regular session of the annual conference. At the clergy session of the West Ohio Annual Conference held on May 30, 2002, in Columbus, Ohio, a clergy member of the Annual Conference submitted a written question of law as follows: Are we in violation of The Discipline of The United Methodist Church ¶ 365.5 which requires that the annual meeting of the clergy members meeting in executive session shall be ‘at the site of the regular session of the annual conference’ in that we are holding that meeting May 30 in Columbus, Ohio and the lay members of the annual conference will not be convened until June 6 in Lakeside, Ohio, approximately one week and 100 miles from this meeting? On June 26, 2002, Bishop Bruce R. Ough delivered his written decision of law as follows: I have ruled that the special clergy session of the Annual Conference held on May 30, 2002 in Columbus was not in violation of ¶ 365.5 of the 2000 Discipline. Further, I have ruled that a special clergy session at a site different from the regular session of the Annual Conference does not negate the Discipline’s mandate that there shall be an annual clergy session at the site of the regular session. The West Ohio Conference must hold an annual clergy session at the site of the regular session of the Annual Conference. The bishop stated the following by way of analysis and rationale for his decision: Judicial Council Decision No. 855 upheld the legality of a special clergy session of the Annual Conference if properly called in accordance with ¶ 324 in the 1996 Book of Discipline. The corresponding paragraph in the 2000 Book of Discipline is ¶ 365.6. The procedures for calling a special clergy session outlined in these paragraphs were followed in 2002, and in the prior years. However, no annual clergy session was held at the site of the regular session of the Annual Conference in 2002, or in the prior years. In effect, the special clergy session became the annual clergy session called for in ¶ 365.5 of the 2000 Discipline. The Book of Discipline appears to draw a distinction, although it is somewhat ambiguous, between the annual clergy session and a special clergy session. Until this ambiguity is clarified, or the Discipline is changed to allow the annual clergy session to be held at a site different than the regular session of the Annual Conference, it is my judgment that a clergy session must be held at the site of the regular session, even if a properly called special clergy session does the work specified in ¶ 365.5. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2000 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The bishop’s ruling that the May 30, 2002, clergy session did not violate ¶ 365.5 of the Discipline is not affirmed. Paragraph 365.5 of the Discipline provides: There shall be an annual meeting of this covenant body [the clergy members of the annual conference], in executive session of clergy members in full connection with the annual conference, including both deacons and elders, at the site of the regular session of the annual conference to consider questions relating to matters of ordination, character, and conference relations (¶¶ 605.6, 633.2). The clergy sessions of the West Ohio Annual Conference held in Columbus, Ohio, during the years from 1999 to 2002 did not satisfy the requirements of ¶ 365.5 of the Discipline because they were not held at the site of the regular session of the annual conference. Thus, the bishop correctly ruled that these clergy sessions did not satisfy the disciplinary requirement of ¶ 365.5 and that the annual conference must hold a clergy session at the site of the regular session of the annual conference. The clergy session held at the site of the regular session of the annual conference is not to be perfunctory. The Discipline requires that the regular business of the clergy session of the annual conference, i.e., to consider questions relating to matters of ordination, character, and conference relations, must occur at this annual meeting, not elsewhere. There is no ambiguity in the Discipline about this requirement. While reasons may be articulated as to why other procedures might be practical or advisable under unique circumstances in West Ohio or elsewhere, those reasons are properly addressed to the General Conference acting in its legislative capacity. Annual conferences must satisfy the mandate of ¶ 365.5. The May 30, 2002, clergy session also did not meet the requirements of ¶ 365.6 of the Discipline which provides: A special session of the annual conference may be held at such time and at such place as the bishop shall determine, after consultation with the cabinet and the executive committee of the board of ordained ministry. A special clergy session shall have only such powers as stated in the call. The announcements of the clergy sessions held in Columbus from 1999 to 2002 did not characterize those sessions as “special.” In fact, as the bishop notes in the analysis and rationale for his ruling, those sessions, in effect, “became the annual clergy session” called for in ¶ 365.5 of the Discipline. In order for a clergy session to comply with ¶ 365.6 of the Discipline, the call for such session must clearly identify the session as being a “special clergy session,” and the call must enumerate the specific agenda of such session. As ¶ 365.6 mandates, the special clergy session shall have only such powers as stated in the call. The Judicial Council, in Decision 855, examined the requirements of a special clergy session under the provisions of the 1996 Discipline. The Judicial Council held, under ¶ 324 of the 1996 Discipline, that “[a] special clergy session of the Annual Conference may be convened by the bishop, upon consultation with the Cabinet and executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry, at a different time and place from the regular session of the Annual Conference, provided that the special session shall have only such powers as stated in the call of the special session.” We reaffirm that decision. The 2000 General Conference did not change the provision on special clergy sessions. Thus, the bishop erred in ruling that the clergy session held on May 30, 2002, in Columbus was not in violation of ¶ 365.5 of the Discipline. This session violated ¶ 365.5 because it conducted the business that is required to be conducted at the site of the regular session of the annual conference at a different location. This session also violated ¶ 365.6 of the Discipline because the written announcement of the session did not clearly identify the session as being a “special clergy session” and because the session conducted the entire business that is to be conducted at the regular session. The actions taken at the 1999-2002 clergy sessions are not invalidated by this decision. The West Ohio Annual Conference, its bishop, cabinet and conference board of ordained ministry, are to be commended for exploring innovative ways to enhance the collegial life of the clergy of the annual conference. A properly called special clergy session certainly can provide time for liturgy and worship, for the sharing of a meal and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, for Bible study and prayer, for renewal of baptismal vows and refreshment of covenant life, and even to conduct specified business that must be conducted between the regular sessions. However, a special clergy session cannot take the place of or make irrelevant the regular annual meeting of the clergy members of the annual conference.

Decision

The decision of law of Bishop Bruce R. Ough is affirmed in part and reversed in part. The annual conferences must hold a clergy session at the site of the regular session of the annual conference each year. If a special clergy session is to be held, the written announcement of such session must clearly identify the session as being a “special clergy session” and specifically state the agenda for the special clergy session, which may include business that must be conducted between the regular sessions. The business conducted at a special clergy session cannot take the place of or make irrelevant the regular annual session of the clergy members of the annual conference.

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