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Decision No. 1234

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April 19 2013
In Re: Request for Reconsideration of Judicial Council Memoranda 1176, 1184, 1192 and 1205 Regarding Discontinuance of a Local Church

Digest of Case

The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction to review a parliamentary decision by a bishop regarding the appropriateness of a recommendation made to the Annual Conference to discontinue a local church under ¶ 2548.2a of the 2008 Discipline. Any claims that there was a failure by the district superintendent to initiate a study of the church’s potential was mooted by ¶ 2548.2c. The Judicial Council will not entertain any further requests by the Petitioner that we reconsider the above ruling we have now made five times. The Secretary is directed that any such requests from the Petitioner be returned forthwith to him.

Statement of Facts

The Hamilton United Methodist Church (“Hamilton UMC”) was located in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. In 2007 when the events informing the beginning of this case began, it had a congregation that was small and apparently fraught with conflict.1 The record 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. The record is also unclear as to whether the church was also struggling with cross-cultural and cross-racial appointments. The most recent appointment was The Rev. Gary Barbaree in July 2007. There was definitely conflict between some of the worshipers and Rev. Barbaree over his efforts to facilitate shared leadership between the Tongans and others who were attending the church. According to the Petitioner, 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 Discipline, instead of proceeding with the nominating committee under the Discipline, the pastor, in consultation with the District Superintendent cancelled the Fall 2007 Church Conference.2 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. The Petitioner notes that the pastor changed the locks and would not allow any of the members of the church access to same. He further explained 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.” The Board of Church Location and Building for the Golden Gate District met on January 13, 2008, to take up the question of what to do with Hamilton UMC. The meeting opened with the reading of a letter from Bishop Shamana that acknowledged the Bishop’s consent to the proposed declaration of abandonment of Hamilton UMC. The district superintendent then followed with a synopsis of the situation at Hamilton: 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. Cited by the district superintendent as specific examples of ministry that had been abandoned included maintenance of worship, edification of believers, redemption of the world, the function of the local church, complaints from neighbors, no participation in the Tongan Mission, no financial base, budget or financial plan, inability to pay the pastor or bills such as utilities, no participation outside the local church, care of members, and no accurate membership lists. The minutes of the Committee further reveal that the church could not conduct worship or committee meetings, that the present members had forfeited their responsibility to keep and maintain the property as a place of divine worship, and that the pastor had been physically assaulted raising issues of safety to congregate at all. The Committee then took up a motion which was unanimously approved: that the Committee consent to the abandonment of Hamilton UMC. Thereafter began the series of serial appeals thatIn Memorandum 1112 the Judicial Council was asked to review a refusal by the presiding bishop of the California-Nevada Annual Conference at the plenary session of June 2008 that a request be received from a 2007 lay member for a response to questions of law as to (i) his status as a member of the annual conference and (ii) the status of Hamilton UMC which had been declared abandoned in January 2008 under ¶ 2548.3 of 2008 Discipline. The bishop noted that the issues were not before the annual conference because the speaker was not a member of the Annual Conference and had neither voice or vote. We agreed noting that the Judicial Council did not have jurisdiction because the presenter was not a member of the Annual Conference and the issues he sought to raise were thus not before the Annual Conference. However, there were three concurring opinions in Memorandum 1112, two of which noted that a review of the materials presented in the case suggested that abandonment could not be used to circumvent the requirements of the Discipline in the case of a church which ought to be discontinued by action of the annual conference rather than declaring it abandoned.3 The Judicial Council was next faced with the question of the status of Hamilton UMC in Memorandum 1176 in which we were asked to review a bishop’s decision of law in the California-Nevada Annual Conference in light of the discontinuance of the church under ¶ 2548.2c. When Item 39 rhat provided for the discontinuance of Hamilton UMC was brought to the floor of the 2010 Annual Conference Session, a lay member (the Petitioner here) presented a request that such item be ruled out of order. The position of the petitioner in his two-page request for a ruling of law was that a recommendation to discontinue a church could not be acted upon until the district superintendent had “guided the congregation in an assessment of its potential as outlined in ¶ 213,” and that such guidance had not occurred in the case of Hamilton UMC. Bishop Brown’s ruling was reported in the minutes of the Annual Conference as follows:

Find the motion for discontinuation of Hamilton UMC is in order and is properly before us. Secondly, I have read the full document [the petitioner] has presented and inasmuch as he has pointed out a couple of things 1. The Judicial Council did not specifically rule on the matter referred to them because they did not have jurisdiction. 2 They did make some helpful comments on the process used several years ago. Reviewing the notes of the Judicial Council and the action done at annual conference at the time of abandonment, it appears to me that the cabinet had done all of the things necessary for discontinuance, including consultation with congregation, but chose to use abandonment. The DS contended that the congregation could not fulfill the responsibility of being a local church and the cabinet agreed. The request for discontinuance should have been brought at that time. Since it wasn’t, I determined to do so now, and seated Mr. Roesti, and put the issue before us. 3. The matter is before us properly; the judicial decisions do not speak against the process that is called for in the item. The decisions would support our completing the process begun in 2008, when abandonment was approved, by approving discontinuance of Hamilton UMC at this time. Item 39 is properly before us. Recommended by the section 60 yes, 0 no. APPROVED discontinuance of Hamilton UMC. [This action placed the item on the floor of the Annual Conference. After further discussion and debate, the Annual Conference voted.] Question called for, supported. Matter before us with recommendation to approve. It is APPROVED. Dividing the house–called by Mr. Roesti–voted by ⅓ of the house. Hand count taken. Report on ballot–yes 528, 155 against. Item 39 is approved.
In Memorandum 1176 we held that the ruling on Item 39 was parliamentary, although erroneously issued as a decision of law. The Judicial Council does not review the decisions of bishops made during an annual conference session that are a parliamentary matter. However, in that decision we went further and pointed out to the Petitioner that the question was now moot since after hearing his statement, the Annual Conference approved the discontinuance of the local church. The lone argument presented by the Petitioner that no timely notice was given the local church prior to the motion for discontinuance is mooted by ¶2548.2c.4 Our ruling was that “[t]he Judicial Council has no jurisdiction over a parliamentary ruling although issued as a decision of law on a matter which has become moot under ¶ 2548.2c.” Requests for reconsideration were presented on two additional occasions, both of which were disposed of by summary denial. See Memoranda 1184 and 1192. However, not being satisfied with our prior rulings, the Petitioner then sought reconsideration of Memoranda 1176, 1184 and 1192. Once again, in Memorandum 1205, the Judicial Council pointed out what should have been obvious to the Petitioner from the start:
The original record demonstrates that the bishop was asked a clear and unequivocal question as to whether the item was properly before the Annual Conference. Questions of whether an item is properly before an annual conference are parliamentary in nature. There was no substantive question of law presented to the presiding bishop but rather a parliamentary inquiry. The Judicial Council has consistently held that it has no jurisdiction to review a parliamentary ruling made by a presiding bishop in an annual conference. See Memoranda 898 and 941. Upon a thorough review of the record presented and of the material presented outside the record since Memorandum 1176 was first considered, we find no compelling reason to disturb our earlier determination. The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction to review a parliamentary ruling made by a presiding bishop in an annual conference. In addition, the matter had been rendered moot by action of the Annual Conference.
This request for reconsideration was also denied. 1The January 13, 2008, minutes of the District Board of Church Location and Building showed that the Hamilton UMC membership list contained 200 names, about half of whom were persons who have passed on or have moved. As of January 2008, the average Sunday attendance was about 40 persons. 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; but 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. 2This case began in 2008 and has now been concluded in 2013. Three of our Disciplines have governed the proceedings. Paragraphs 2548 and 213 have retained the same language in all three editions. 3Paragraph 2548.3 of the Discipline provides in pertinent part that when a local church property is no longer used, kept or maintained as a place of divine worship or when a local church no longer serves the purpose for which it was organized and incorporated, with the consent of the presiding bishop, a majority of the district superintendents and of the district board of church location and building, the property shall be considered abandoned. At that point, the annual conference trustees may assume control of the real, personal, tangible and intangible property. There is no requirement in 2548.3 that there be any action by the annual conference for a church to be considered abandoned. Although the record is this case is clear that the presiding bishop and the church location and building committee consented to the abandonment of Hamilton UMC, it is silent as to whether the cabinet was consulted or whether a majority of the cabinet also consented. However, as noted in the third concurring opinion in Memorandum 1112, at the time of its issuance on April 24, 2009, “[H]amilton UMC is a congregation which is being proposed by the Cabinet to be discontinued, not abandoned.” 4Paragraph 2548.2c is a harmless error rule which is in The Discipline to take care of just such situations: “c) If the annual conference declares any local church discontinued, the failure to complete any of the prior steps (i.e., the very notice to the congregation of which the Petitioner complains) will not invalidate such discontinuance”
JURISDICTION
The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction in this matter.
ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE
And yet again, the Petitioner has now in this case asked the Judicial Council to reconsider Memoranda 1176, 1184, 1192, and 1205 regarding discontinuance of a local church. This is the fifth time Petitioner has attempted to get the Judicial Council to rule on his repetitive claim that Hamilton UMC could not be discontinued because the District Superintendent had not followed the language in ¶ 2548.2 to “guide the congregation in an assessment of its potential as outlined in ¶ 213.” The record in this case is clear to a legal certainty that the District Superintendent, the pastor assigned to Hamilton UMC, and the Board of Church Location and Building sought to bring an end to the extreme conflict which brought ministry and mission at Hamilton UMC to an unhappy end. There was nothing left to study as contemplated by ¶ 213. Abandonment was clearly in order as suggested by Bishop Brown in his ruling discussed above. However, there is no evidence in the record before us that a majority of the cabinet ever formally approved abandonment which would have closed the circle and ended the matter there. In order to bring it to an end, Bishop Brown determined that the church would be discontinued, and, as he says, he seated the Petitioner and put the issue before the Annual Conference session. The approval of the discontinuance of Hamilton UMC by the Annual Conference ended this matter and ¶ 2548.2c mooted the claim which Petitioner has repeatedly sought to bring before us. His attempts are now at an end. Once more, and lastly, the Judicial Council has no jurisdiction over a parliamentary ruling although issued as a decision of law on a matter which had become moot. The Judicial Council will not entertain any further requests by the Petitioner that we reconsider the ruling we have now made five times.

Decision

The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction to review a parliamentary decision by a bishop regarding the appropriateness of a recommendation made to the Annual Conference to discontinue a local church under ¶ 2548.2a of the 2008 Discipline. Any claims that there was a failure by the district superintendent to initiate a study of the church’s potential was mooted by ¶ 2548.2c. The Judicial Council will not entertain any further requests by the Petitioner that we reconsider the above ruling we have now made five times. The Secretary is directed that any such requests that may be filed by the Petitioner be returned to him forthwith. Beth Capen and Ruben Reyes were absent. Sandra Lutz, first lay alternate, and Warren Plowden, fifth lay alternate, participated in this decision.

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