The Council of Bishops had asked Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on legislation adopted by the 2016 General Conference that sets out an order of appeals for a clergy member facing an administrative process, which often deals with questions of clergy competence and effectiveness.
Clergy whose status has changed involuntarily have a right to file an appeal before any final action is taken by a clergy session, the United Methodist Judicial Council has ruled.
"Until the completion of the appellate process, claims of procedural errors are not resolved and the disciplinary question is not sufficiently clear to allow the clergy members in full connection of an annual conference to make a fair and informed decision," said Decision 1361.
The clergy appeal item, which was the subject of an oral hearing, was among the topics considered by the denomination's top court during its Oct. 23-26 meeting.
The Rev. Kimberly Reisman, who chaired the General Conference committee that first approved the legislation, noted that the appeals process passed both the Judicial Administration Committee and plenary sessions with little debate.
"Although it may need further refinement, I believe a degree of clarity was achieved in these paragraphs," said Reisman, who is also the World Methodist Evangelism director.
The court's decision bars a vote by the clergy session on a recommendation for an involuntary change of status when the appellate process has not yet been completed.
"A clergy member remains in good standing and is entitled to an appointment pending the outcome of the appellate process, except when the challenged action is in relation to discontinuance from provisional membership," the decision said.
In another case, Judicial Council affirmed the constitutional authority of General Conference to remove a delegate, under certain provisions, for ethical violations. General Conference is the denomination's top lawmaking body.
The Commission on General Conference, which plans the denomination's top legislative assembly, had asked the church court whether that assembly has the authority to expel a delegate for violating General Conference rules, regardless of whether a reserve delegate would be available to fill that vacancy.
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The meeting's most anticipated ruling involved a review of legislative plans in the Commission on the Way Forward report. The court found the One Church Plan to be largely constitutional, but noted constitutional problems in the Traditional Plan.
Linda Bloom, assistant news editor for UMNS and Heather Hahn, UMNS writer
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