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Decision No. 997

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October 28 2004
In Re: IN RE: Request from the Wisconsin Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality of ¶ 346.1 of the 2000 Discipline Concerning Discontinuance of Local Pastors.

Digest of Case

The discontinuance of a local pastor under ¶ 346.1 of the 2000 Discipline does not include trial procedures under ¶ 2701. In the absence of pending charges under ¶ 2702, discontinuance of a local pastor under the sole authority of the bishop is constitutional.

Statement of Facts

On June 15, 2004, during a session of the Wisconsin Annual Conference, the Conference requested a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of ¶ 346.1 of the 2000 Discipline in light of ¶¶ 18 and 31 of the Constitution and in light of ¶¶ 341.5, and 344.2. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610 of the 2000 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The Judicial Council will examine the constitutionality of ¶ 346.1 with specific reference to ¶¶ 18 and 31 of the Constitution. The request’s reference to the constitutionality of ¶346.1 in light of ¶¶ 341.5 and 344.2 will not be considered because these paragraphs are not constitutional provisions. The question presented is whether the bishop's right to terminate local pastors without resort to fair process conflicts with the provisions of the Constitution, ¶ 18, which reserves the right of all clergy to trial with the right of appeal. A second question presented is whether the provisions of ¶ 346.1 which allows the bishop or the district committee on ordained ministry not to recommend continuation of a local pastor's license conflicts with ¶ 31 of the Constitution, which gives the annual conference the authority to vote on the character and conference relations of its clergy members. The trial provisions of ¶ 18 of the Constitution relate to investigations, trials and appeals under the provisions of ¶ 2701. Such judicial provisions have as their purpose the just resolution of judicial complaints and establish certain fair process guarantees which include the right of appeal. The provision for exiting in ¶ 346.1 does not encompass trial procedures as set forth in ¶ 2701, but rather contemplates the exit of local pastor through retirement, cessation of approval for appointment by the annual conference, severance of relationship with The United Methodist Church, discontinuance of appointment, or cessation of recommendation for continuation of license by the district committee on ordained ministry. These provisions encompass those situations that result in the exit of a local pastor through means other than trial procedures under ¶ 2701. As such, ¶ 346.1 does not offend the provisions of ¶ 18 of the Constitution. Nothing contained in ¶ 346.1 alters the fact that the annual conference is the basic body of the church or alters the reservation of rights to the annual conference to vote on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members, and on the ordination of clergy or such other rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under ¶31 of the Constitution. Paragraph 346.1 provides that the appointment of a local pastor may be discontinued by the bishop and presents the question whether such delegation to the bishop alone is repugnant to ¶ 31 of the Constitution. Paragraph 31 of the Constitution provides:

The annual conference is the basic body in the Church and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments, on the election of clergy and lay delegates to the General and the jurisdictional or central conferences, on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members, and on the ordination of clergy and such other rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution, with the exception that the lay members may not vote on matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy except that the lay members of the conference board of ordained ministry may vote on matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy, with the further exception that lay members of the district committee on ordained ministry be full participating members of the district committee on ordained ministry with vote. It shall discharge such duties and exercise such powers as the General Conference under the Constitution may determine.
Paragraph 346.1 does not relate to local pastors charged under ¶ 2702. There, fair process described in ¶ 2701 would be applicable. The licensing process for local pastors, while subject to recommendation of the cabinet, the district committee on ordained ministry, or the executive committee of the conference board of ordained ministry is subject to the final action of the bishop. Paragraph 346.1 is constitutional.

Decision

The discontinuance of a local pastor under ¶ 346.1 of the 2000 Discipline does not include trial procedures under ¶ 2701. In the absence of pending charges under ¶ 2702, discontinuance of a local pastor under the sole authority of the bishop is constitutional.

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