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Memorandum No. 1045

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October 26 2006
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Concerning Whether the Annual Conference is Authorized to Invite Pastors to Relinquish Authority Granted by Ordination and the Ability of a Pastor to Relinquish Authority Granted by Ordination.

Two resolutions were adopted during the 2006 session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference. The first resolution, Petition # 3-6 “Invitation to PNW Pastors,” states:

Resolved: That the PNW [sic] Annual Conference invite its pastors to affirm publicly that they voluntarily relinquish the authority granted them by the Judicial Council’s decision 1032 and that they agree to receive any person into professing membership who affirms vows of membership.
The second resolution, Petition # 3-8 “Our Commitment to Non-Discrimination in Receiving Persons into Membership in The United Methodist Church,” states:
Resolved: That the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference go on record, both to its members and constituency and to the general public, expressing our dismay with Judicial Council Decision 1032 in ruling that a local pastor has the right to refuse membership to any person on any ground other than failure to profess the Christian Faith as defined in ¶ 217 of The 2004 Book of Discipline. Be it further resolved that the Conference Secretary send a press release of this statement to the major media in our Conference region. Further Resolved: That we covenant with one another, in each of our individual offices, roles and responsibilities, to communicate and demonstrate the welcome and the call of Christ to all persons, doing all in our power to bring them to a faithful and transforming relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, in the confidence that it is the true work of Christ in every person to transform whatever needs to be transformed, and that Christ alone can be the true judge and agent of such transformation.
After the adoption of the resolutions a member of the Annual Conference submitted two written questions of law during the regular business of the session as follows:
1. Is an Annual Conference authorized to invite its pastors to relinquish the authority granted them in ordination? 2. May an ordained elder – or any other person serving under appointment – relinquish the authority granted them to undertake the actions and activities for which they are responsible?
The presiding bishop ruled in response to the first question that an annual conference is not authorized to invite its clergy to relinquish the authority granted them. In response to the second question, the presiding bishop ruled that clergy cannot relinquish the authority granted them. The presiding bishop ruled that Petition # 3-6 was inconsistent with the Constitution and the Discipline. With respect to Petition # 3-8, the presiding bishop ruled that while that petition expressed an opinion of a decision made by the Judicial Council, it did not purport to suggest a response that would be contrary to the Discipline as interpreted by the Judicial Council. The decisions of law are affirmed. The presiding bishop properly ruled that an annual conference is not authorized to invite clergy to relinquish authority granted them and that clergy cannot relinquish authority granted them. As the presiding bishop observed, Article IV of Section II of Division Two of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church (¶ 16 of the Discipline) states:
The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have the authority as follows: . . . 2. To define and fix the powers and duties of elders, deacons, supply preachers, local preachers, exhorters, and deaconesses, 3. To define and fix the powers and duties of the annual conferences . . . .
The General Conference has defined and fixed the powers and duties of clergy, and it has not given the annual conferences a role in defining or fixing those powers and duties with respect to the subject matter of the resolutions. The presiding bishop properly observed that “while clergy may have a variety of ways of exercising the authority granted to them within the boundaries established by the Discipline as interpreted by the Judicial Council, an annual conference does not have the power to invite them to relinquish authority” and “while clergy may have the freedom to exercise in various ways the authority extended to them by the Discipline and as interpreted by the Judicial Council, clergy do not have the right to relinquish such authority.” (Original emphasis). Annual conferences may express disagreement with other bodies of The United Methodist Church, but they are still subject to the Constitution, the Book of Discipline, and the decisions of the Judicial Council.
DIGEST
An annual conference is not authorized to invite clergy to relinquish authority granted them, and clergy cannot relinquish authority granted them as a general proposition. Mary A. Daffin and Shamwange P. Kyungu were absent.

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