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Decision No. 1126

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October 30 2009
In Re: Request for a Declaratory Decision from the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference as to Whether a Retired Elder in Full Connection Can Serve as Chairperson of a Local Church Committee on Finance

Digest of Case

A retired elder can serve as chairperson of the local church committee on finance.

Statement of Facts

In the clergy executive session of the 2009 Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the members present and voting adopted a resolution that made a request for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the question of whether or not a retired elder could serve as chairperson of a local church committee on finance. The resolution offered seven statements referencing ¶¶ 246 (preface), 245.2, and 358.5. The resolution indicated that the bishop and district superintendent had told one retired clergyman that he should not serve as chair of a local church committee on finance. In an episcopal response to the request for a declaratory decision, Bishop Peggy A. Johnson stated that “it is entirely appropriate that a bishop establish a policy that limits the role of retired clergy in the financial administration of a local church…” and that “such a policy administered through the office of the district superintendent is binding on any retired clergy member holding membership in a charge conference of a local church within the area administered by the office of the bishop.” The record does not give evidence of an annual conference policy on the matter. Statements from several retired clergy and clergy in extension ministry appointments indicate that some of them have served as officers in the local churches where their charge conference membership is placed. The bishop and district superintendent filed briefs that state that retired clergy are members of the annual conference and that ¶ 246 has a preface that states “all (members of the charge conference) shall be professing members of the local church.” The “episcopal response” affirms that although retired clergy are members of the charge conference, they are not members of the local church. Further, the “episcopal response” sees ethical questions about the relationship between a retired clergyperson and the pastor of a local church and vis-à-vis the responsibility of lay leadership for the administration of the local church. Paragraph 605.6 notes “The actions of the clergy session shall be for and on behalf of the annual conference.” An oral hearing was held in Durham, North Carolina, on October 29, 2009. Appearing before the Judicial Council was Stanley J. Menking.

Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610 of 2008 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
Retired elders are members in full connection of the annual conference ( ¶¶ 32, 332, 331.1, 358). Paragraph 358.5a states: “All retired clergy members who are not appointed as pastors of a charge, after consultation with the pastor and district superintendent, shall have a seat in the charge conference and all privileges of membership in the church where they elect to hold such membership except as set forth in the Discipline….” The 2008 Discipline does not contain a prohibition of a retired elder serving as chairperson of a local church committee on finance. Any apparent conflict in how the retired elder relates to the church council can be resolved by reference to ¶ 252.5d.

Decision

A retired elder can serve as chairperson of the local church committee on finance.

Dissenting Opinion
I believe that the Judicial Council lacks jurisdiction. Under ¶ 2610, the Judicial Council has jurisdiction to make a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act or legislation of a General Conference. The Judicial Council’s jurisdiction to make such a ruling upon request from an annual conference is limited by the language of ¶ 2610.2 (j) which requires that a request from an annual conference must relate to annual conferences or the work therein. We have interpreted ¶ 2610 to mean that a request for a declaratory decision that comes from an annual conference must be germane to the regular business, consideration, and discussion of the annual conference and must have a direct and tangible effect on the work of the annual conference session. In order for the Judicial Council to have jurisdiction, an annual conference request for declaratory decision must relate to some action taken or to be taken by the annual conference session. See Decisions 33, 301, 452 and 1118. There is no showing from the record supplied that the request for a declaratory ruling was germane to annual conferences or the work therein, or that the request related to some action taken or to be taken by the annual conference session. The bishop’s brief suggests three main reasons why retired clergy persons who are not appointed as pastors of a charge should have rights of church membership that are different than the rights of church membership of professing members. The bishop suggests that ethical questions abound regarding the role of retired clergy versus the responsibility of lay leadership for the administration of the local church. The bishop also suggests that there are potential conflicts of interest between retired clergy and the pastor in charge / laity relationship. Finally, the bishop suggests that a bishop of an annual conference could establish a policy that limits the role of retired clergy in the financial administration of the church. The reasons cited by the bishop may be valid. However, none of those reasons offer any helpful guidance or insight into how the present text of the Discipline should be interpreted. The bishop’s reasons are policy considerations that are best advanced in legislative debate before the General Conference. The Judicial Council is not authorized to determine policy issues. The General Conference has full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional. The Discipline prescribes that only a lay person may serve as lay leader or as a lay delegate to the annual conference. Its current provisions assure me that retired clergy will not be able to occupy positions within the local church for which they are not eligible or that are specifically reserved for the laity. Although retired clergy are not classified as members of a local church, ¶ 358.5 of the Discipline grants retired clergy who are not appointed as pastor of a charge all the privileges of membership in the church. Further definition or restriction of the rights of retired clergy who are not appointed as pastor of a charge should come from the General Conference and not from the Judicial Council For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully dissent. Jon R. Gray October 31, 2009

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