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April 23 2009
In Re: Review of a Decision by Bishop Beverly J. Shamana of the California-Nevada Annual Conference Not to Recognize the Lay Member Credentials of an Individual Who Asserted that His Local Church Was Discontinued Without Regard to Disciplinary Procedures.
At the opening Plenary Session of the June 2008 Annual Conference of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, Bishop Shamana refused to receive a request from a 2007 lay member for a written response to questions of law concerning his status as a lay member of the annual conference and the status of the Hamilton United Methodist Church which had been declared abandoned in January 2008 under ¶ 2548.3 of the 2004 Book of Discipline. The Bishop noted that the requests were improper because neither of the issues was before the conference and because he was not a member of the conference and had neither voice nor vote.
The Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction because the record of the Annual Conference indicates that the Bishop declined to issue a written response, indicating the presenter was not a member of the Annual Conference and the issues he was concerned with were not properly before the Annual Conference.
Ruben T. Reyes was absent. Jay Arthur Garrison, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.
I concur with the prevailing decision. Furthermore, it is noted that an individual cannot appeal to the Judicial Council for relief. The Judicial Council may address appeals from certain matters, if appeals are raised by the correct parties. (¶ 2609)
Katherine Austin Mahle
We concur with our colleagues on the prevailing decision.
However, we further note as we reviewed the material presented that the requirements of the Discipline cannot be circumvented by simply naming discontinuance of a congregation as being one of the abandonment of church property. There is a significant difference between a church that has been abandoned by its membership versus a congregation that ought to be discontinued. (See ¶¶ 2548.2 and 2548.3)
Katherine Austin Mahle
F. Belton Joyner, Jr., joins in this concurring opinion.
Although I reach the same conclusion that the Judicial Council has no jurisdiction pursuant to the fact that an individual cannot bring a matter to the Council for a Declaratory Decision, in this case I believe it would be helpful to remind the church that the requirements of the Discipline cannot be circumvented by simply naming discontinuance of a congregation as being one of the abandonment of a church. There is a significant difference between a church that has been abandoned by its membership versus a congregation that ought to be discontinued. (¶ 2548)
The Hamilton United Methodist Church in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco has a congregation that was small and apparently fraught with conflict. The information is unclear as to whether this primarily Tongan congregation had much conflict within and between its members or whether the conflict was primarily between the congregation and the pastors who were appointed to the congregation. It is not clear whether the church was also struggling with cross-cultural and cross-racial appointments. The most recent appointment was in July 2007.
The January 13, 2008, minutes of the District Board of Church Location and Building shows that the Hamilton UMC membership list contains 200 names, about half of which are persons who have passed on or have moved. As of January 2008, the average Sunday attendance was about 40 persons, according to the appointed clergyperson who attended the District meeting. The Church founded the Haight-Ashbury Food Program which had been serving 200-300 noon meals four days a week and 500 meals on holiday; the Food Program was scheduled to move to another location in March 2008. The Hamilton UMC had previously also been the home of the Hamilton Family Shelter, which moved out in mid 2006 and with it went a stream of rental income to the church. The minutes further note that there are “present worshippers and leaders” in the church.
There was definitely conflict between some of the present worshippers and the appointed pastor. It appears that the clergyperson was attempting to facilitate shared leadership between the Tongans and others who were attending the church. The appellant notes the following:
… At the November 2007 Church Council meeting, Rev. Barbaree announced a plan to nominate two persons (one Tongan, one Caucasian) to every leadership position, but when the Lay Leader objected, preferring to follow the Book of Discipline, instead of proceeding with the nominating committee under the Book of Discipline, the pastor, in consultation with the District Superintendent cancelled the Fall 2007 HUMC Church Conference. … Then, on December 9, 2007, … after the service [the pastor] suspended the Chair of the Church Council and the Secretary of the Church Council, claiming that the Conference Chancellor had advised him that he had the authority to do so.
At the same time, the congregation was advised that the Cabinet was going to deem their church “abandoned,” which exacerbated the conflict.
On January 10, 2008, the church’s locks were changed and keys were not distributed to any church members (District Board minutes of January 13, 2008). The appeallant notes that the pastor changed the locks and would not allow any of the members of the church access to same. He further explains that, “No trespass signs were posted in the church parking lot and a private security company was contracted to keep members from congregating in the church’s parking lot. A sign was also posted at the church entrance announcing that HUMC was closed and no longer open for worship service.”
January 12, 2008, the local church Board of Trustees met and elected its Chair, Vice-Chair, and Secretary-Treasurer.
On January 13, 2008, the District Board of Church Location and Building met. Noted in the minutes was communication from the Bishop:
This letter serves to acknowledge my consent and that of the Cabinet to the proposed declaration of abandonment of Hamilton United Methodist Church in San Francisco according to [paragraph] 2548.3 2004 Book of Discipline. … We pray that God will guide those who discern the future of this property and potential ministries.
The District Board also noted the sentiment of the District Superintendent:
The stresses upon members of the church have created extreme conflict. This internal conflict so preoccupies the attention of church leaders that the congregation has lost the capacity to conduct ministries that fulfill the mission and purpose of the Church.
The District Board’s minutes then list the various shortcomings in the church’s mission and ministry. The minutes also note that the appointed pastor had been physically assaulted by a parishioner. The minutes further note:
An informational meeting has been announced for Saturday, January 19  to discuss the future of Hamilton UMC. District Superintendent Schlager will send a letter to all Tongan pastors on the District letting them know what action is being taken and urging them to take in the remaining faithful members.
The District Board and the Cabinet then proceeded to treat the church as one which was “abandoned” rather than being “discontinued”.
At the 2008 regular session of the Annual Conference the lay member of Hamilton UMC obtained the floor during the conference plenary. However, when the presiding Bishop realized that the person that she recognized to speak was actually from Hamilton UMC, she ruled that he had no right to bring a request for a decision of law concerning the aforementioned issues because the church had been declared abandoned and as such he had no standing at annual conference and was merely a visitor.
The requirements of the Discipline cannot be circumvented by simply naming discontinuance of a congregation as being one of abandonment of a church. There is a significant difference between a church that has been abandoned by its membership versus a congregation that ought to be discontinued. Hamilton UMC is a congregation which is being proposed by the Cabinet to be discontinued, not abandoned. The Bishop, District Superintendents, and district board of church location and building do not have the authority to discontinue a congregation; only by action of the annual conference may a congregation be discontinued. See Decisions 948 and 962.
William B. Lawrence, Angela Brown, and Jay Arthur Garrison join this concurring opinion.
April 24, 2009
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