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Decision No. 1282

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October 25 2014
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Indiana Annual Conference Regarding the Authority of the Conference Board of Trustees to Establish Policies for the Demolition of Closed Church Properties in Light of ¶ 2549.7

Digest of Case

The Bishop’s decision of law is reversed, and the Indiana Annual Conference is directed to exempt proceeds from the sale of urban abandoned properties from deductions for a demolition fund.  The Trustees’ plan does not comply with ¶ 2549.7 of the 2012 Discipline

Statement of Facts

During the 2014 session of the Indiana Annual Conference, a written request for a question of law was submitted to the Bishop.  The question was:  “does the Indiana Conference Board of Trustees have authority to set policy concerning the demotion (sic) of closed church properties in urban areas (as defined by ¶2549.1)?  If so, is the Trustees policy on the Closed Church Demolition Fund in compliance with ¶2549.1?”

The bishop ruled

The Board of Trustees of the Indiana Conference has authority to propose policies regarding the disposition of any funds from the sale of discontinued church properties, with the Annual Conference holding final authority to approve or disapprove of such policies          

The 2014 Session of the Indiana Conference approved the proposal of the Conference Trustees that up to 15 % of the net proceeds from the sale of all closed church properties be used for demolition of such properties, maintaining a balance of up to $100,000 in that demolition fund, with the expressed provision that such demolition funds assessed to properties in urban centers of more than 50,000 population be retained in a separate demolition fund for that population center in order to comply with ¶ 2549.7.

Given that other costs associated with the sale of closed church properties (such as insurance costs, utility costs, and realtor fees) are normally accounted from the “gross” proceeds to determine the final “net” proceeds it is the right of the Trustees to propose that a “demolition fund” also be deducted from the “gross” proceeds as a part of the work of the Trustees to dispose of such properties.  The 2014 Session of the Indiana Conference approved this policy in the Trustees report, with the specific notation that proceeds from the sale of closed churches in urban centers be retained in a separate demolition fund for that population center in order to comply with ¶ 2549.7.

Therefore, it is my ruling that the actions of the Board of Trustees and the approval of the 2014 Session of the Indiana Conference do not violate ¶ 2549.7.

Paragraph 2549.7 states 

when properties from the discontinuation of a congregation or abandonment are sold in urban centers with more than 50,000 population, the proceeds of sale must be used for new and/or existing ministries within urban  transitional communities, as described in ¶212, and consistent with the Annual Conference’s urban ministry strategic plan.

JURISDICTION

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶¶ 51 and 56.3 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church and under ¶2609.6 of the 2012 Discipline, as modified by Decision 1244.

ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE

Paragraph 2549.7 is very specific in exempting abandoned church properties in urban centers of 50,000 or more from other policies an annual conference may have in place.  It states:

The proceeds of sale must be used for new and/or existing ministries within urban transitional communities, as described in ¶ 212, and consistent with the Annual Conference’s urban ministry strategic plan.”  Because neither the Trustees nor the bishop mention an urban ministry strategic plan to which this might be related it seems particularly critical they follow the dictates of the disciplinary paragraph.  There is no exception for expenses to be taken from the proceeds of sale.  The proceeds must be used for new and/or existing ministries within urban transitional communities.

Decision

The Bishop’s decision of law is reversed, and the Indiana Annual Conference is directed to exempt proceeds from the sale of urban abandoned properties from deductions for a demolition fund.  The Trustees’ plan does not comply with ¶ 2549.7 of the 2012 Discipline

 J. Kabamba Kiboko was absent.

Timothy K. Bruster, first clergy alternate, took part in this decision.

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