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Decision No. 1174

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October 29 2010
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the North Alabama Annual Conference Regarding the Consultation Process in Light of ¶ 431

Digest of Case

Insofar as the provisions of the 2008 Discipline were followed regarding the consultation process as outlined in ¶ 431, the Bishop‘s decision of law is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

On June 4, 2010, during the business of a regular session of the North Alabama Annual Conference an elder was recognized by the Bishop for a moment of personal privilege. The elder requested an Episcopal ruling of law asking: “Is proper consultation, according to the 2008 Book of Discipline, being performed with pastors and churches by the Cabinet of the North Alabama Conference?” The elder states that on the morning following his request for a bishop’s decision of law he was approached by a superintendent to discuss the matter of the request. The elder and two superintendents met. One superintendent defined consultation as “any conversation that takes place between a District Superintendent and a pastor or a Staff Parish Committee or its chairperson, including face to face, e-mail, and phone conversations, regardless of subject (I quote him to the best of my recollection of the conversation ).” The Bishop prefaces his decision of law as follows:

Documented evidence reveals that in this specific case The Reverend Parris participated in a Consultation with the District Superintendent July 16, 2009 and received information indicating that Appointments in the United Methodist Church are made on an annual basis and that growth was the indicator for effectiveness in North Alabama. It was further stressed that SPRC teams function in an advisory capacity in the appointment making process. Records I have reviewed indicate emails and documented phone calls between the District Superintendent and the SPRC Chairperson at Cullman UMC, a meeting held February 28, 2010 between the District Superintendent and the SPRC team of Cullman First UMC, consultation with The Reverend Parris and four (4) members of the Appointive Cabinet including Bishop Willimon in session in Fort Payne Ala on March 3, 2010 and subsequently the District Superintendent notifying The Reverend Parris and the Cullman First SPRC Chairperson that a change of appointment was being considered by the Cabinet. When told of the change being considered and the compensation of the new appointment The Reverend Parris offered no objection. I am convinced that the requirements of the 2008 Book of Discipline have been followed regarding Consultation in this case and in all appointments in the North Alabama Annual Conference. Citing Decision No. 101 of the Judicial Council Bishop Willimon says: The word “Consult” means to seek the opinion of or to confer or discuss with another. In Paragraph 432 (1) it means that the District Superintendent shall inform the pastor of the proposed Appointment and discuss the matter with him with the view of ascertaining if there are any reasons why such Appointment should not be made. Consultation means that there is an exchange of ideas even though they may not be in agreement.
Bishop Willimon ruled:
Therefore, as Bishop of the North Alabama Annual Conference I hereby rule that the Cabinet of the North Alabama Annual Conference is performing proper consultation in accordance with the 2008 Book of Discipline.
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction pursuant to paragraph 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The 2008 Discipline provides the following:
Paragraph 421 Supervision- 1. To work with elders, deacons, local pastors, diaconal ministers, and charge conferences in formulating statements of purpose for congregations in fulfilling their mission and with committees on pastor-parish relations to clarify the priorities for the ministry of clergy and diaconal ministers. Paragraph 421.2 To establish a clearly understood process of supervision for clergy of the district, including observation of all aspects of ministry, direct evaluation, and feedback to clergy involved. Paragraph 431 Consultation and Appointment-Making – Consultation is the process whereby the bishop and /or district superintendent confer with the pastor and committee on pastor-parish relations, taking into consideration the criteria of ¶ 432, a performance evaluation, needs of the appointment under consideration, and mission of the Church. Consultation is not merely notification. Consultation is not committee selection or call of a pastor. The role of the committee on pastor-parish relations is advisory. Consultation is both a continuing process and a more intense involvement during the period of change in appointment . Paragraph 431.1 The process of consultation shall be mandatory in every annual conference. Paragraph 431.2 The Council of Bishops shall inquire annually of their colleagues about the implementation of the process of consultation in appointment- making in their respective areas. Paragraph 433.3 When a change in appointment has been determined, the district superintendent should meet together or separately with the pastor and the committee on pastor-parish relations where the pastor is serving, for the purpose of sharing the basis for the change and the process used in making the new appointment. Paragraph 433.5a The district superintendent shall confer with the pastor about a specific possible appointment (charge) and its congruence with gifts, evidence of God’s grace, professional experience and expectations, and the family needs of the pastor, identified in consultation with the pastor.
In Decision 101, the Judicial Council confirmed this principle as set forth in the 1952 Discipline of The Methodist Church, by ruling that "while the authority in appointing preachers to their charges rests upon the Presiding Bishop, it does not relieve the District Superintendent of the responsibility of consulting with the preacher . . . ." "Consultation" in that Decision was defined as the exchange of ideas between the District Superintendent and the Pastor, not necessarily agreement. The consultation process is to occur before the appointment decision is made, and its length or brevity may be determined by different situations. Decision 501 stated that the consultation is to take place prior to the appointment decision and parties involved are to be informed prior to any public announcement. Neither a time sequence for consulting the pastor or the committee, nor the length of time needed for the consultation process is specified. The bishops are required to inquire annually of their Episcopal colleagues about the implementation of the consultation process. Paragraph 433.1 indicates the process of consultation shall be mandatory in every annual conference. Paragraph 433.3 states when a change in appointment has been determined, the district superintendent should meet together or separately with the pastor and the committee on pastor-parish relations where the pastor is serving, for the purpose of sharing the basis for the change and the process used in making the new appointment. In the record provided there is disagreement as to whether the district superintendent consulted with the pastor and the Staff-Parish Relations Committee as outlined in the Discipline ¶ 431. The record is not clear as to whether the consultation process was followed in the manner specified in the Discipline. The Judicial Council is not a fact finding body. Notification of an appointment is not consultation.

Decision

Insofar as the provisions of the 2008 Discipline were followed regarding the consultation process, the Bishop’ decision of law is affirmed.

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