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Members of the Virginia delegation discuss possible next steps after the United Methodist Judicial Council ruled the proposed

File photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Members of the Virginia delegation discuss possible next steps after the United Methodist Judicial Council ruled the proposed "Plan UMC" for church restructuring to be unconstitutional during the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla. The council will consider a request for a declaratory decision on “Plan UMC Revised” when it meets in Portland, Ore., in advance of the 2016 General Conference.

GC2016 items on top court’s agenda

By Linda Bloom
April 29, 2016 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

The top court of The United Methodist Church will consider two items related to the upcoming General Conference when its spring meeting begins May 6.

Judicial Council will meet at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland just prior to the denomination’s May 10-20 legislative session there.

Among the seven docket items on the spring agenda are two that anticipate possible action by General Conference delegates:

  • A request for a declaratory decision from the United Methodist Council of Bishops regarding legislation on “Plan UMC Revised,” which calls for restructuring of the church’s general agencies.
  • A request for a declaratory decision from the Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops about what it considers to be two conflicting paragraphs in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, related to the possibility that the jurisdiction may lose an episcopal position.

Oral hearings on two docket items, both open to the public, have been scheduled at the Doubletree Hotel, 1000 NE Multnomah St., on the afternoon of May 6.

The hearing on Docket 1, at 2 p.m., is about a request from the California-Pacific Conference to clarify church law related to fair process in judicial proceedings. The hearing on Docket 7, at 4 p.m., concerns the request from the Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops.

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Revisiting a restructuring plan

The Council of Bishops’ request for review of Plan UMC Revised was deferred from the court’s fall meeting in October. The council said its request did not reflect support of — or opposition to — the restructuring plan but was “made in order to better facilitate the work of GC2016.”

The Judicial Council declined to rule on the request at that time, fearing any action “could potentially place a constitutional seal of approval on one proposed legislative item,” as noted in Decision 1303.

The original “Plan UMC” was approved by delegates at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida, but the Judicial Council declared the plan unconstitutional on the last day of the conference.

But, a group of United Methodists believe “Plan UMC Revised” is constitutional and could again win approval by the denomination’s top legislative body. The plan gives new authority to the Connectional Table, a church coordinating body; re-aligns the general agencies and eliminates three commissions.

Northeast Episcopal allotment questioned

The Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops wants Judicial Council to rule on what it considers to be two paragraphs in the Book of Discipline related to episcopal areas that seem in conflict.

The request stems from the fact that the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration has informed the college that under the provisions of Paragraph 404.2, the number of bishops in the jurisdiction would be reduced from 9 to 8 in the next quadrennium due to the loss of membership.

“The College of Bishops and the committee on Episcopacy of NEJ believe that a reduction of the number of bishops is not in the interest of the mission of the jurisdiction for a number of reasons,” said a letter submitted by Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, president of Northeast Jurisdiction College of Bishops.

The jurisdiction’s committee on episcopacy also is appealing to the Inter-Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy “for a missional exception to allow the NEJ to retain nine episcopal areas.”

A petition submitted to GC2016 would amend 404.2 “so that the number of bishops in a jurisdiction would be determined by missional potential and capacity rather than the number of members.”

Other docket items

The remaining docket items include an appeal of a decision made Aug. 18, 2015, by the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals to uphold a verdict by a Rocky Mountain Conference trial court to terminate the membership of the Rev. Filimone Havili Mone.

Formerly the pastor of Laumalie Ma’oni’oni United Methodist Church, a Tongan congregation in the Salt Lake City area, Mone was suspended by the conference in 2012 after failing to report suspected child abuse to authorities in a timely manner in violation of church and state law. The next year, he was tried in city court and reached a plea agreement to perform community service.

Although Bishop Elaine Stanovsky lifted the suspension after a just resolution agreement was negotiated, the conference said Mone did not abide by the terms of that agreement. A verdict after a church trial in February 2015 meant termination of his conference membership, although Mone retained his ordination in the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga.

The Judicial Council’s Spring 2016 docket can be found here.

Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (615)742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org