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Decision No. 1148

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April 23 2010
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference Regarding the Authority of “Adventure Guides” Who Are Not Elders to Conduct Local Church or Charge Conferences in Light of ¶ 246.5.

Digest of Case

The district superintendent shall preside at the meetings of the charge conference or may designate an elder to preside. Any practice or policy to the contrary is incompatible with and hence a violation of ¶ 246.5 of the Discipline. The bishop’s decision of law is vacated and modified.

Statement of Facts

The Judicial Council received an account from the 2009 Clergy Session of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. A question arose during the clergy session after the report of Ordained Ministry

I stand to request a decision of law. Is the practice and policy of the Baltimore-Washington Conference as referenced in the role and responsibilities of District Superintendent and Adventure Guides that all such persons employed in the capacity of Adventure Guide be empowered to conduct local church charge conferences whether or not they are an elder in the United Methodist Church, compatible with ¶ 246.5 in the 2008 Book of Discipline?

Bishop Schol received the request and noted that he would respond to the request for a ruling of law within 30 days. The Bishop ruled that:

The request for a ruling is moot and hypothetical. The ruling is grounded in Judicial Council Decisions 33, 396, 651,746, 747, 762, 763 and 799. These decisions maintain that a question of law must relate to the business, consideration, or discussion of the conference session. There was no legislation, discussion or business concerning church charge conference during the session.

The fall 2009 session of the Judicial Council received this review of the Bishop’s decision of law. No Annual Conference Minutes were found causing the Judicial Council to remand to the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference a request that the Minutes of the 2009 Clergy session of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference be supplied. Pages 332-335 of the Official Journal of the Baltimore-Washington Conference were submitted to the Judicial Council. The record demonstrates that the question of law was raised at the Clergy Session during the report of the Board of Ordained ministry. It was after the Disciplinary Question “Who are appointed to extension ministries for the ensuing year?” and prior to the report being put to the body for final adoption.

Jurisdiction

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

Analysis and Rationale

The description of the Discipleship Adventure Guides was submitted to the Judicial Council. The Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference instituted a new model of ministry which utilizes “Discipleship Adventure Guides” to partner with clergy and their congregations in order to focus on local church ministry and be resources for them as they live out their vision and mission. All District Superintendents are Adventure Guides, as are many of those who are conference staff. It appears that there are non-elders who are also guides. The materials from the annual conference indicate that there are four classes of Guides: Discipling Associate, Discipling Elder, District Superintendent, and Regional Team Leader (the annual conference was divided into four regions for this program emphasis). The Ministry Description - Guides document provides a list of key tasks for each class of Adventure Guides. “Conduct charge conferences” is one of the key tasks specified for the Discipling Elder, District Superintendent, and Regional Team Leader. The Discipling Associate is expected to be knowledgeable about charge conferences, but conducting charge conferences is not listed as a task in the Ministry Description document. However, conducting charge conferences is clearly one of the tasks listed under Discipling Elder and the other classes of Guides. In reviewing the description of the “Discipleship Adventure Guides” the Judicial Council reminds the Annual Conference that all provisions of the Discipline must be followed. ¶ 246.5 states that: “The district superintendent shall preside at the meetings of the charge conference or may designate an elder to preside.” A district superintendent may delegate to an elder, and an elder only, the responsibility of presiding at a Charge Conference. Any practice or policy to the contrary, such as the delegation of authority to anyone other than an elder by the district superintendent, such as discipleship adventure guides who are not elders is incompatible with and hence a violation of the Discipline.

Decision

The district superintendent shall preside at the meetings of the charge conference or may designate an elder to preside. Any practice or policy to the contrary is incompatible with and hence a violation of ¶ 246.5 of the Discipline. The bishop’s decision of law is vacated and modified. April 24, 2010

CONCURRING OPINION

I concur for quadruple reasons. First. The significance of the petition cannot be gainsaid. The case concerns district superintendents and local churches and bears a potential impact on the conduct of charge and local church conferences everywhere. Second. Contrary to the bishop’s opinion, the request for a ruling is neither moot nor hypothetical. Reliance on the decisions cited in the ruling is misplaced. There is no parallelism between the cases there and the case at hand. For one thing, the conference secretary states that there was an invitation for comments as the disciplinary questions were being concluded. There is thus business or consideration pertinent to district superintendents and adventure guides, focus of the request. For another, the issue on the authority of the adventure guides or the legality of their decisions at charge conferences is alive and vital. The legal question of whether a non-elder may be authorized to conduct a local charge conference was formally submitted to the bishop in the annual conference session and he ruled on it in writing, albeit a month later, as he earlier intimated. Third. Paragraph 246.5 of the 2008 Book of Discipline mandates that the “district superintendent shall preside at the meeting of the charge conference or may designate an elder to preside.” This is fortified by ¶ 423.1 stating, inter alia, the responsibility of the district superintendent “to schedule and preside, or authorize an elder to preside, in each annual charge conference or church conference within the district.” As published by the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, Discipleship Adventure Guides, are composed of all superintendents and most members of the Conference program staff in its four regions. Under appointment as such adventure guides, among those considered elders are one elder of another denomination, one licensed local pastor and one deacon in full connection. When there is a request for a special charge conference, pastors are instructed to contact their district superintendents for authorization “at which time a Discipleship Adventure Guide can be empowered to lead.” Thus, as directed by the district superintendents, adventure guides “lead charge conferences.” This contravenes the Discipline. Fourth. The limit of delegating the power to preside to an elder and no other is explicit and specific. The mandatory duty to lead or conduct a charge or church conference is lodged with the district superintendent. He is allowed to designate a substitute but the latter should be an elder, not a deacon or local pastor or elder of another denomination, otherwise the Discipline would have so provided. The rationale for the limitation is not difficult to discern -- only elders in full connection are appointed by the bishop as district superintendents. (¶ 403.2 and ¶ 417) Given the basic importance of the charge conference, the task of presiding over it ought not to be diluted or delegated to another with different credentials. Sound is the principle that a grant of delegable power and duty must be strictly construed. It should not be stretched or expanded beyond its bounds. Ruben T. Reyes April 24, 2010

DISSENTING OPINION

I do not believe that jurisdiction has been clearly established. A member of the conference asked a question that had nothing to do with the business of the conference. There was no action before the conference that was relevant to the question. The question was without factual context. The mere fact that a conference member asks a question does not establish a factual context, nor does it make the question a part of the business of the conference. While it is true that a presiding bishop may be asked any question during an annual conference session, it is also true that the bishop is not obligated to answer questions that are moot, hypothetical or not germane to the business of the conference, other than to rule them so. For clarity and consistency, we serve our function best when we strictly adhere to the limits of our jurisdiction. It is particularly inappropriate for the majority to rely on materials that were not before the conference and that went far beyond the record of the Annual Conference minutes and the Bishop’s response to the question. We have held that interested persons and parties should not be able to supplant the official minutes of the Annual Conference session through briefs or gratuitous statements. We have likewise held that questions must be germane to the business of the conference session. Germaneness is determined by whether there is any action taken or to be taken by the Annual Conference. I discern an ideological drift from our established principles regarding Judicial Council jurisdiction that has caused uncertainty on the part of presiding bishops and has created the impression that Judicial Council precedent has no binding effect. Decision 1032 was wrongly decided in my opinion due in large measure to the improvident and ill-advised assumption of jurisdiction without a proper basis to do so. Our assumption of jurisdiction in Decision 1126 was likewise inappropriate, and the question addressed in that case had no relevance to the business of the conference session. Under our system of governance, the Judicial Council is not a forum for the resolution of intramural disputes that do not rise to the level of matters upon which the conference takes action. Likewise, the Judicial Council is not an open discussion group that gives advice on matters of general academic interest. A question such as the one asked is best addressed to the rules process of the annual conference. We do violence to our fundamental principles when we assume jurisdiction without a proper basis to do so. The Bishop was correct in this instance and should be affirmed. Jon R. Gray April 24, 2010

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