Decision Number 515


October 29, 1982

Authority of an Annual Conference to Consider for Admission Under Par. 452 a Candidate not Recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry


No person may be considered by an Annual Conference for admission unless that person has met all the Disciplinary requirements, including recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry.

Statement of Facts

A member who had surrendered his ministerial office under provisions of Par. 448 after admitting guilt to chargeable offense, sought readmission into the Wisconsin Annual Conference. In accordance with due process (Par. 452) he was recommended by the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. After lengthy review of the recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry of the conference, including an interview with the applicant, the Board voted not to recommend readmission. The applicant's name was not presented to the Executive Session of the Wisconsin Conference, meeting on June 3, 1982. A question was raised about the Board's action regarding this person. The Board chairman reported on the process which had been followed in dealing with this request which included a reconsideration of the request by the entire board on June 2, 1982, and the vote by the Board again to deny his request for readmission.

The conference voted to direct the Board of Ordained Ministry once again to reconsider its decision at this session of the Conference. The Board did as instructed. It met in special session, reconsidered the whole matter and reaffirmed its previous action not to recommend reinstatement. At a recessed session of the Executive Session, June 3, 1982, the chairman of the Board reported to the conference that the Board had reconvened as directed by the conference, and had reaffirmed its action not to recommend readmission of the person in question as a full member of the conference.

A ministerial member moved that the name of the applicant be placed before the ministerial members in executive session for readmission. Bishop Marjorie S. Matthews ruled the motion out of order, citing Pars. 452 and 424 concerning the requirement that a candidate be recommended by the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. There was a motion to appeal the ruling to the Judicial Council, and the motion carried. 


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2611 of the 1980 Discipline

Analysis and Rationale

Par. 452 of the 1980 Discipline sets forth the steps and requirements for readmission to Annual Conference membership of one whose previous membership was terminated by surrender of the ministerial office. There are four requirements:(1) the person seeking admission must be recommended by the District Committee on Ordained Ministry; (2) the person must be recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry; (3) the person must be recommended by the Cabinet; and (4) the person must be voted into membership by the ministerial members in full connection.

Par. 703.3 of the 1980 Discipline sets forth the conditions under which the Annual Conference has authority to admit members: "The Annual Conference may admit into membership only those who have met all the Disciplinary requirements for membership and only in the manner prescribed in the Discipline."

This paragraph makes no distinction between those who are being admitted for the first time and those who are being readmitted after previous membership was terminated. Depending on circumstances, the requirements for different candidates may vary. For any given candidate, though, the requirements which apply must be fulfilled. The Discipline does not give the Annual Conference authority to waive any of the requirements for admission. Indeed, it is quite specific to the contrary. The conference may admit only those who have met all the Disciplinary requirements.

As applied to the present case, this principle would give the Annual Conference no more authority to waive the recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry than it has to waive the recommendation of the district committee or of the cabinet. In order to be admitted, the candidate must have the recommendation of all three.

In reaching a decision in the present case, consideration must be given to Judicial Council Decisions No. 344 and 405. In those decisions, rendered in 1971 (344) and 1975 (405), the Judicial Council ruled that the Annual Conference had the power and authority to overrule its Board of the Ministry and admit a candidate not recommended by that board. Decision No. 344 was rendered under the 1968 Discipline, and No. 405 under the 1972 Discipline, both of which differed in two significant respects from the 1980 Discipline, under which the present decision must be made. Par. 665.15 of the 1968 Discipline and Par. 665.16 of the 1972 Discipline state: "The board shall be directly amenable to the Annual Conference for its actions." The 1968 Discipline does not contain a Glossary. A Glossary was added in 1972, but neither "amenable" nor "amenability" is defined there. In both the 1976 and 1980 Disciplines, the Glossary defines "amenability" as the "requirement upon an organized unit in The United Methodist Church to answer to, act under instruction of, yield to, or submit to another unit in the church structure." If this definition of "amenability" is accepted, it is understandable that an Annual Conference was judged in those cases to have the authority to overrule a board which was amenable to it.

Significantly, the 1980 Discipline does not use the word "amenable" in its description of the relationship of the Board of Ordained Ministry to the Annual Conference. Instead, it uses the word "responsible", the word that was used in the 1968 Discipline (Par. 665.15) and 1972 Discipline (Par. 665.16) to describe the much looser relationship of the Board of the Ministry to the Department of the Ministry. Thus, Par. 723.1(a) now reads, "This board shall be directly responsible to the Annual Conference."

The Glossary does not contain a definition of "responsible" or of "responsibility". By definition and common usage, "responsible" is a broader, less specific term than "amenable", and does not necessarily imply the same degree of authority or power on the part of the Annual Conference to compel agreement or to order an action or decision by the Board of Ordained Ministry.

The second significant change in the Discipline concerns the degree of confidentiality to be maintained by the Board of Ordained Ministry. The 1968 Discipline, in Par. 665.9, required that "the board shall certify all information and recommendations concerning each candidate to the Annual Conference." Under the 1972 Discipline, which included that same requirement of full disclosure, the Judicial Council ruled, in Decision No. 406, that the Board of Ordained Ministry may not withhold information from the executive session of the Annual Conference. Under such a full disclosure requirement, given all known information, an executive session of an Annual Conference may have found it possible to resolve itself into a committee of the whole to duplicate the work of the Board of Ordained Ministry, consider the case of any candidate it so desired, and arrive at an informed decision with or without the recommendation of that board.

The 1980 Discipline is distinctly different at this point. The 1980 General Conference enacted legislation that requires, not disclosure, but confidentiality on the part of the Board of Ordained Ministry. Par. 723.2(h) states that one of the duties of the board shall be "to ensure confidentiality in relation to the interview and reporting process. The personal data and information provided through the examinations of and by the Board of Ordained Ministry will not be available for distribution and publication." The closing sentence of this paragraph makes it clear that such information may even be withheld from the executive session: "There are occasions when the Board of Ordained Ministry would not report privileged information, which in the judgment of the board, if revealed in the executive session would be an undue invasion of privacy without adding measurably to the conference's information about the person's qualifications for ministry." Though this closing sentence describes a hypothetical situation in which there may be some ambiguities, there is no ambiguity in the paragraph as a whole. The board is required to ensure confidentiality. Personal data and private information are not for distribution beyond the membership and records of the board.

As now constituted, the Board of Ordained Ministry has powers and duties not precisely duplicated by the Annual Conference, either as a whole or in executive session. In interviews, examinations, and evaluations, a board may deal with information which by Discipline must be kept confidential. Based on such information, a board may make the decision not to recommend a given candidate for admission, just as a district committee or a cabinet, acting on the information available to them, may make the decision not to recommend.

The question at issue is whether, when any one of the qualifying groups refuses to recommend admission (in this case, readmission) thereby halting the process, the Annual Conference has a right to bypass that step and consider the candidate without the requisite recommendation. It has long been generally understood and practiced that each preliminary step along the road to membership in the Annual Conference is required. One who is not recommended by the District Committee on Ordained Ministry, for example, proceeds no further. The bishop's ruling in this instance holds that similarly, should the Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry refuse to recommend admission of one who has surrendered the ministerial office, that person is not eligible for consideration by the Annual Conference.

Par. 452 states the requirements for the readmission of one who has surrendered the ministerial office under the provisions of Par. 448.4. The rights of the Conference can be best protected if these requirements are fulfilled in order. The Discipline charges the Board of Ordained Ministry, when the request is duly made, to consider the readmission of one who has surrendered the ministerial office. In this instance, the Board considered the request eleven months after the surrender of credentials and reported to the Annual Conference its action to deny the request. The Annual Conference accepted this report (June 4, 1981). A second request came in April 1982, and was denied after the petitioner met with the Board's interview team and then, at his request, with the entire Board. A further reconsideration was made at the order of the Annual Conference, June 3, 1982. In each instance, the Board of Ordained Ministry denied the request for readmission-thus terminating the process as provided in Par. 452. Since one of the three groups whose recommendation is required before the matter can be brought to the formal attention of the Annual Conference had in four different sessions reached the decision not to readmit, the request had reached the end of the line in disciplinary process.

Had the Board of Ordained Ministry dealt summarily with the request for readmission, refusing to hear the petition, then the issue of the rights of a local church member, who had surrendered his ministerial office under charges, might well have been raised. In this case, the Board followed carefully the disciplinary requirements and process.

The Annual Conference is the final judge of its membership, subject to the procedures and requirements established by the Discipline. One of those requirements is the recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry.


The ruling of Bishop Marjorie S. Matthews is sustained. A candidate applying for admission to an Annual Conference must meet all of the requirements of the Discipline, including recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry. Without that recommendation, no person is properly before the Annual Conference for consideration for membership.

Dissenting Opinion

The majority hold that without the recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry no person is properly before the Annual Conference for consideration for membership. That is directly contrary to the holdings of Decisions 344 and 405. In No. 344 it is stated that the responsibility for determining who may be elected to conference membership has been placed by the Discipline with the Annual Conference and that the responsibility of the board ceases when it brings its recommendations to the Annual Conference. "The conference may vote to accept, to change, or to reject such recommendations". A person not recommended by the board was held validly elected by the conference. 

The decision in No. 405 reads: 

The Board of the Ministry is required by the Discipline to make recommendations to the Annual Conference in regard to all matters of ministerial classifications. In the event the Board of the Ministry fails to make such recommendations, the Annual Conference has the right to take such action as is necessary.

It was contended that the Board may withhold a recommendation and that all recommendations must be in the affirmative. These arguments were rejected.

We find those previous Decisions well reasoned, persuasive and directly in point. It must be noted that the majority opinion does not overrule either of them.

The majority seek to distinguish Decisions 344 and 405 on two bases. First, reliance is based on the change in wording as to the relationship of the Board of Ordained Ministry to its parent body, the Annual Conference, from "directly amenable" to "directly responsible". We consider this a distinction without a difference. Certainly one person or organization that is directly responsible to another is amenable to it. There is nothing to suggest that the General Conference in making such a minor change to more simple and generally understandable language expressed, or had, any intention of depriving the basic body of United Methodism, the Annual Conference, of its judicially recognized right to make the final decision as to its own membership when in disagreement with its subordinate body.

Secondly, the majority rely upon the confidentiality provisions of Par. 732.2(h). The majority quote, however, the portion of the paragraph which permits withholding privileged information from the executive session which, in the board's judgment, would not add "measurably to the conference's information about the person's qualifications for ministry". The implication is inescapable that the board must reveal any information it has which bears significantly on the qualifications of the person seeking membership. Thus the conference is entitled to the information upon which it makes the final decision.

The majority decision speaks of the recommendations of the district committee, which in this instance had been given, and that of the cabinet, as to which we have no information. The decision is not based on either of these factors, however. but only on the failure of the Board of Ordained Ministry to make a favorable recommendation. Decisions 344 and 405 clearly hold that under such circumstances the Annual Conference may make its own decisions. We believe there is no substantial distinction between the present case and those decisions so that unless and until they are overruled we must dissent from the Digest and Decision set forth by the majority. 

Florence Lucas Edwards

Tom Matheny

Leonard D. Slutz

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