The United Methodist Church’s top court released three decisions and a memorandum March 17 responding to questions raised during annual conference sessions.
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In one request, bishops asked the Judicial Council whether annual conferences — church regional bodies — can leave the denomination under current church law.
The church court released six rulings related to a new church law that allows congregations, under limited conditions, to leave the denomination with property.
In Memorandum 1433, the Judicial Council modified an earlier ruling related to a church disaffiliation in the Alabama-West Florida Conference.
The court ruled in Decision 1421 that conference leaders acted contrary to church law when they closed the sale of Woodlawn United Methodist Church before the annual conference had the chance to ratify the congregation’s disaffiliation agreement. The decision said, “The execution, delivery and filing for record of any deed to property cannot be accomplished prior to such ratification.”
In the March 16 memorandum, the church court clarified that the holding “shall be prospective and not affect the actions taken by the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference concerning the Woodlawn UMC at its 2021 session.”
In the other decisions released March 16, the church court dealt with questions of church law raised during U.S. annual conference sessions.
In Decision 1432, the church court affirmed Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball’s decision about how the West Virginia Annual Conference handled the equalization of lay and clergy voters.
The United Methodist Church’s constitution requires that each “annual conference shall, by its own formula, provide for the election of additional lay members to equalize lay and clergy membership of the annual conference.”
The 2021 West Virginia Annual Conference session elected at-large lay members to equalize clergy as part of the conference’s organizational motion. That vote on organization took place after the bishop called the session to order but before other conference business.
Conference voters subsequently adopted a rule to maintain the same election process for lay equalization in the future. A clergy member asked the bishop whether the new rule violated the denomination’s constitution.
In Decision 1431, the church court affirmed Bishop Peggy A. Johnson’s decision not to rule on a question because it was hypothetical.
The now-retired Johnson was responding to a question submitted at the 2021 Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. A clergy member asked whether it was permissible as a matter of church law for annual conferences and local churches to regard all general church apportionments — shares of church giving — as voluntary until General Conference meets to pass a new budget.
In Decision 1430, the Judicial Council vacated a ruling from Bishop Mark J. Webb from 2019 because of insufficient conference records. The court said it could not act because the online record it received did not contain “the exact statement of the question submitted and the ruling of the bishop.”
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UMNS
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