Decision Number 325
A Petition from the South Carolina Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality of its Adopted Procedures for Special Appointments to Non-United Methodist Agencies.
An Annual Conference has no authority to make any changes in the provisions of the Discipline concerning the ministry. A procedure which would compel a conference member seeking special appointment to a non-United Methodist agency to change his conference status to sabbatical leave or voluntary location or discontinuance for a year of evaluation does make such changes and is, therefore, unconstitutional.
Statement of Facts
The Journal of the 1969 session of the South Carolina Annual Conference shows that the conference adopted a plan of procedure for special appointments to non-United Methodist agencies, which was Section IV of the report recommended by its Study Committee on Special Appointments. The plan adopted was as follows:
"That the South Carolina Annual Conference adopt the following procedural steps to be followed as guidelines for the making of Special Appointments to non-church related agencies and institutions:
1. Any minister who wishes to move from the regular itinerary to a Special appointment in a non-church related agency or institution will first serve in that capacity on an evaluation basis for one conference year. During the evaluation year, the minister will serve under one of the three possible relationships, as recommended by the Conference Board of the Ministry.
a. Sabbatical year (Par. 356) b. Discontinuance (Par. 325) c. Voluntary location (Par. 366)
2. The year is intended to be one in which evaluation of both the appointment and the minister might take place. This would include self-evaluation by the minister of his own understanding of his vocation. It would include evaluation by the local pastor of the charge conference with which the minister is affiliated and by the Superintendent of the District. Such evaluation will take place together with the Conference Board of the Ministry. Evaluation should be completed no later than three months prior to the meeting of the next Annual Conference. (See Appendix A.)
3. After receiving these evaluations, the Bishop, after consultation with the District Superintendents, will determine whether or not to make the appointment.
4. If the appointment is to be made, the Annual Conference must confirm it by two-thirds vote as indicated in Paragraph 391.6 of the Discipline.
5. It is expected that normally this procedure be followed on the basis of the Annual Conference year, since only the Annual Conference may grant any ministerial relationship."
Further Notes on What Is Meant by Evaluation
"FOR THE MAN HIMSELF
Do I still want to be known as a clergyman in this job? Do I consider myself a clergyman and do I act like it? Is the fact that I am a clergyman adding a dimension to the job that otherwise would not be there?
"FOR THE PASTOR OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
Is this man participating in the life of this local church in a Clerical Role or does he consider himself a Layman? What is the attitude of his wife?
"FOR THE DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT
Is this man in fact keeping himself under the authority of the church? Does be participate on a District level? Has he accepted willingly calls to serve within the District, such as preaching and administration of the Sacraments as needed?
"FOR THE COMMITTEE
Is Christian Ministry going on through the job or service that this man is rendering?"
After adopting this plan of procedure, the South Carolina Annual Conference voted to request of the Judicial Council a declaratory decision on its constitutionality.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1715 of the 1968 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
In its Decision No. 321 the Judicial Council ruled that the only control over special appointments to non-United Methodist agencies is in the requirements of Paragraph 391.6 which limit the bishop's power of appointment by the necessary recommendation of the district superintendents supported by a two-thirds vote of the Annual Conference. The decision noted that the Annual Conference has considerable control here if it wishes to set its own guidelines for approval of such appointments.
Such guidelines, however, must be in harmony with the provisions of the Discipline. No Annual Conference has the authority to alter such provisions. Only the General Conference can do that. It is apparent that the procedures adopted by the South Carolina Annual Conference do effect changes in certain disciplinary provisions concerning the ministry.
The plan adopted by the conference requires that a conference member change or relinquish his conference membership for at least one year. It grants to the conference Board of the Ministry the authority to compel a conference member seeking special appointment to a non-United Methodist agency to seek a change in conference relations, either sabbatical leave or voluntary location or discontinuance if he is a probationary member; the Board recommending to the conference which one of these it shall be.
It is to be noted that in the Discipline, sabbatical leave (Par. 356) and voluntary location (Par. 366) are entirely voluntary. The minister requests such a status. While discontinuance (Par. 325) may be recommended by the conference Board of the Ministry, it also may be voluntary, and the South Carolina plan would obviously be using the voluntary aspect of discontinuance. To make sabbatical leave, or voluntary location, or requested discontinuance compulsory for a conference member seeking special appointment to a non-United Methodist agency would be to change these provisions and give to an Annual Conference and its Board of the Ministry an authority not granted to them by any provisions of the Discipline.
Furthermore, the plan would compel a conference member to submit himself to a year of personal evaluation and probation with his conference membership to some real extent on trial. There is no provision in the Discipline which authorizes such a procedure.
The plan adopted by the South Carolina Annual Conference begins with the words, "Any minister who wishes to move from the regular itinerary (sic) to a special appointment in a non-church related agency or institution. . . ." (emphasis ours). It is obvious that the thrust of the procedure adopted by the South Carolina Annual Conference moves toward a separate category of the ministry for special appointments to non-United Methodist agencies. There is no such separation in the Discipline. Special appointments are a part of the itinerant ministry. If there is wisdom in establishing a separate category of special ministries, distinct from the itinerant ministry, the General Conference alone has the authority to make such changes.
Article IV of the Constitution states, "The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctly connectional...." There never has been any doubt about the fact that all provisions concerning the ministry of the church are distinctly connectional matters. Such provisions can be changed only by the action of the General Conference. The Annual Conference has no authority to alter them.
It is the decision of the Judicial Council that the procedures adopted by the South Carolina Annual Conference in connection with the making of special appointments to non-United Methodist agencies are unconstitutional.