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Decision No. 1142

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April 23 2010
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the West Michigan Annual Conference Regarding Adoption of a Master Group Program for Insuring All Churches in the Conference in Light of ¶ 2532.2.

Digest of Case

An annual conference has the right and the authority to implement a mandatory conference-wide property and casualty insurance plan. The bishop’s decision of law is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

During the 2009 regular session of the West Michigan Annual Conference, the conference adopted a proposal identified as Item #10 regarding the Conference Property and General Liability Insurance Program. After floor debate, the original proposal was amended and adopted in the following form: The West Michigan Annual Conference, recognizing that every dollar saved in the local church is another dollar for ministry, authorizes the Conference Board of Trustees (Board) to implement a Master Group Program whereby all churches in the conference insure with the same insurance company designated by the Board effective July 1, 2009, or as soon as feasible. “If, with the implementation of Item #10, a local congregation can demonstrate to the Conference Trustees by means of a written quote, that they could obtain equivalent insurance coverage from an alternate A.M. Best Rated A+ provider at a lower premium cost, and the provider under the Master Group Plan will not match that premium, the Annual Conference may, for up to one year reimburse the local congregation the difference out of the savings realized by coverage of Conference Facilities and properties, as long as funds exist.” The minutes of the session reflect that a member of the Annual Conference made a request in writing in the regular business of a session for a bishop’s decision of law on whether Item #10 as adopted was in accordance with ¶ 2532.2 of the 2008 Book of Discipline. The bishop took the request under advisement and subsequently determined that Item #10 is not in conflict with the 2008 Discipline and is consistent with Decision 866 rendered by the Judicial Council.

JURISDICTION

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction pursuant to ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.

ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE

Paragraph 33, Article II of the Constitution provides that the Annual Conference is the basic body in the church and shall have reserved to it . . . rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution. All real property acquired by a local church is subject to a trust clause as provided generally in ¶ 2501 of the Discipline. The Annual Conference has an ultimate interest in the property of all local churches and has continuing authority over the disposition of such property in order to protect that ultimate interest. Moreover, the Annual Conference has an identifiable interest in any plan or program relevant to providing proper and adequate protection and security for the property and activities of its local churches. Pursuant to its interests and its status under the Constitution, the Annual Conference is authorized to mandate that its constituent local churches participate in a conference-wide property and liability insurance program. In Decision 636 the Judicial Council ruled that an annual conference may adopt a conference-wide plan of property and casualty insurance. That decision was reaffirmed in Decisions 759 and 866. The relevant disciplinary paragraphs have not changed significantly over the intervening years. The local church board of trustees continues to maintain the responsibility to review annually the adequacy of the insurance coverage provided by the conference-wide master plan and, if deemed necessary, to recommend to the charge conference, the purchase of additional insurance. The duties of the local church board of trustees under ¶ 2532.2 are to review annually the adequacy of property, liability, and crime insurance on church-owned property, buildings and equipment and to review annually the adequacy of personnel insurance in order to ensure that the church’s property and its personnel are protected against risks. Because the Discipline is silent on the question of who is to select and secure insurance for the local church, it does not violate the Discipline for the Annual Conference to do so. It is not in conflict with the Discipline for an annual conference to implement a mandatory conference-wide property and casualty insurance program. Judicial Council precedents announced in Decisions 636, 759, and 866 remain authoritative on this issue.

Decision

An annual conference has the right and the authority to implement a mandatory conference-wide property and casualty insurance plan. The Bishop’s decision of law is affirmed.

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