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Decision No. 962

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April 26 2003
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

The decisions of law of Bishop Edward W. Paup are affirmed. A missionary conference may discontinue a church where all of the procedural steps are not followed. A local church should be informed concerning a recommendation for discontinuance. Meetings involving the discontinuance of a local church which include discussions of real estate and potential litigation may be closed, and the sharing of verbatim accounts of such meetings is inappropriate. A district superintendent, the cabinet or the Administrative Unit of the Alaska Missionary Conference does not have the authority to discontinue a congregation.

Statement of Facts

In Decision 948, the Judicial Council directed Bishop Edward W. Paup of the Alaska Missionary Conference to answer questions of law posed to him at the regular session of the Conference on May 30, 2002. The questions of law submitted in writing to Bishop Paup were: 1. Question of Law No. 1-Discipline ¶ 2548.2-Discontinuance, ¶ 213-Assessment, ¶ 201-204-Organized and Incorporated a) 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? Answer: Par. 2548.2 must be understood as being conditioned by ¶ 2548.2.c. which states that if the annual conference declares any local church discontinued, the failure to complete any of the prior steps will not invalidate such discontinuance. b) 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? Answer: The answer provided for Question 1.a. serves this question as well. Paragraph 2548.2.c. renders all procedures described in preceding sections of ¶ 2548 to be normative but not essential to the validity of discontinuance. A local church should be informed in a timely way about recommendations for discontinuance, and why it is believed it no longer serves the purposes defined in ¶ 201-204. 2. Question of Law No. 2-Discipline ¶ 604.14-Closed Sessions a) 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? Answer: Since ¶ 604.14 specifically provides an exception for “real estate matters” and “litigation,” and since the discussion related to St. Paul UMC involved these matters, the discussion of the Administrative Unit could properly be held in closed session. b) 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 (sic), at which St. Paul’s “discontinuance” was decided? Answer: Documents from the properly closed session of the Administrative Unit with its discussions of real estate matters and probable litigation that were integrally related to and inextricable from the question of discontinuance are themselves properly closed. By the same reasoning, any documents produced in the closed sessions of the Cabinet are properly closed. 3. 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; ¶ 242b-Seeking Inclusiveness Can the regional superintendent . . . , the Cabinet and the Administrative Unit of the Alaska Missionary Conference “discontinue” a church, St. Paul UMC, Fairbanks AK, because it refuses to exclude certain persons from leadership? No. The superintendent, cabinet, and/or the Administrative Unit of the Alaska Missionary Conference have no authority to discontinue the St. Paul UMC or any other local church for any reason. Only the Alaska Missionary Conference itself can do this. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council retained jurisdiction in Decision 948. Analysis and Rationale Question I. Petitioner’s initial questions relate to the issue of the application of ¶ 2548.2. This section is conditioned by ¶ 2548.2c, which is a catch all provision for the action of discontinuance to remain effective where the prescribed steps are not followed. The petitioner argues that it is “inconceivable that a bishop or superintendent would seek to discontinue a church for arbitrary or personal reasons.” That would be inconceivable; however, there is nothing in this record indicating that the district superintendent’s actions and recommendation for discontinuance were arbitrary or personal. The district superintendent closely followed the procedures of ¶ 2548.2 and counseled the church on its responsibilities, duties and opportunities for the future. The district superintendent also made the determination that the specific requirements of ¶ 213 was not applicable in the particular circumstance. Par. 2548 includes the obligation that the district superintendent take the church through the assessment process that is outlined in ¶ 213. The purpose of this process is to allow every local church the opportunity to be in compliance where it is at variance with the purposes for which it was originally organized. Par. 2548.2c provides that if the annual conference determines that a local church is discontinued, noncompliance with any of the prior steps listed in the paragraph does not invalidate such action. A local church should be informed in a timely way about recommendations for discontinuance, and why it is believed the church no longer serves the purposes defined in ¶ ¶ 201-204. The bishop’s decisions of law with respect to Questions 1a. and b. are affirmed. Question II The purpose of ¶ 604.14 is to allow for openness and accountability within official bodies of the church. The bishop correctly states that ¶ 604.14 provides exceptions with respect to personnel and real estate matters. Cabinet meetings often involve personnel matters, which require closed meetings. It is also evident that real estate matters and discussions related to potential litigation establish a need for a closed session. The meetings of the cabinet and the Administrative Unit of the Alaska Missionary Conference were appropriately closed because real estate issues and potential litigation were discussed. Par. 604.14 requires that a report on the results of a closed session be made either immediately after the meeting is completed or as soon thereafter as is practicable. In Decision 869, we ruled that “[a] reporting of the results of a meeting shall not be construed to mean any form of a verbatim of the meeting.” We affirm the bishop’s decisions of law with respect to Questions 2a. and b. Question III Only the annual conference has the authority to discontinue a church. The Alaska Missionary Conference voted 61-1 in favor of discontinuance. The district superintendent, the cabinet or the Administrative Unit of the Alaska Missionary Conference did not act to discontinue the congregation. The decision for discontinuance was made by the Missionary Conference. The bishop is affirmed in his decision of law on Question 3.

Decision

The decisions of law of Bishop Edward W. Paup are affirmed. A missionary conference may discontinue a church where all of the procedural steps are not followed. A local church should be informed concerning a recommendation for discontinuance. Meetings involving the discontinuance of a local church which include discussions of real estate and potential litigation may be closed, and the sharing of verbatim accounts of such meetings is inappropriate. A district superintendent, the cabinet or the Administrative Unit of the Alaska Missionary Conference does not have the authority to discontinue a congregation.

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