Decision Number 686

April 22, 1993

Constitutionality, Meaning, Application and Effect of Par. 705.6 of the 1992 Discipline in Relation to Par. 422 and as Regards the Inclusion of All Clergy Members in Clergy Session.


Par. 705.6, which includes all clergy members in the clergy session, is constitutional. The executive session described Par. 422 must be constituted and conducted according to the provisions of Par. 705.6.

Statement of Facts

The 1992 session of the General Conference adopted a motion requesting a ruling from the Judicial Council as to the "legality and constitutionality of the provision in Calendar Item 1325 which includes all clergy members in the clergy session." A petition was received from the North Georgia Conference for a declaratory decision as to the meaning, application, and effect of Par. 704.6 (1988 Discipline) as amended by the 1992 General Conference, in relation to Par. 422. An identical petition was received from the Austrian Provisional Conference.

Calendar Item 1325 amended Par. 704.6 in the 1988 Discipline, which became Par. 705.6 in the 1992 Discipline.


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction in the petition from the General Conference under Par. 2609 and in the petition from North Georgia Conference under Par. 2616. No determination was made as to jurisdiction in the identical petition from the Austrian Provisional Conference.

Analysis and Rationale

Both petitions are combined in a single decision because both are concerned with the constitutionality and interpretation of Par. 705.6 of the 1992 Discipline.

At issue is the nature and composition of an executive clergy session and the authority of the General Conference to make that determination. We find no precise standard definition of an executive session. Dictionaries define it loosely as a "session, generally closed to the public, of a legislative body or its leaders" (Random House), for example, or "a legislative session, usually closed to the public." (American Heritage)

Experience sheds little light. Executive sessions involving various public and governmental bodies in our communities follow no consistent pattern.

We know of no mention of an executive session in the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. Pars. 36, 38, and 39 list matters on which clergy and laity must vote separately, but do not suggest that they should be physically segregated when voting on those restricted agenda items. Rather, the wording of Pars. 35-39 of the Constitution seems to contemplate the meeting together of clergy and laity as the Annual Conference, with both groups voting on some issues, and each group prohibited in turn from voting on certain others.

Lacking any clear-cut established definition, the executive session in The United Methodist Church is created and defined by the General Conference. It has been defined in various ways. We traced the concept only as far back as 1939, when it appears in Par. 533 of the first Discipline of The Methodist Church following unification:
Inquiries shall be made in the open Conference as to whether all the Ministerial Members of the Conference are blameless in their life and official administration. . . provided that the Conference may order an executive session of the Ministerial members, to consider questions relating to matters of ordination, character, and conference relations.

Ministerial members were defined by Constitution as "Traveling Preachers in full connection."

This definition of executive session and ministerial members continued unchanged through the 1964 Discipline. We find no mention of an executive session in the Discipline of The Evangelical United Brethren Church.

In 1968, when The United Methodist Church was formed, the definition of the executive session was continued unchanged. it was still composed of the ministerial members. (Par. 663.5) However, the definition of ministerial members was removed from the Constitution and placed in the hands of the General Conference, where it was broadened to include not only members in full connection, but probationary members and associate members as well. (Par. 660) Those persons became members of the executive session, without vote.

In 1980, there was another change. Local pastors under full-time appointment were made ministerial members, becoming also members of the executive session, without vote. (Pars. 701.1, 704.5)

In 1984, the General Conference, in Par. 421, restricted the executive session to members in full connection, but failed to change Par. 704.6, which still included all ministerial members in the executive session.

In 1988, the General Conference compounded the confusion. Without changing the provision in Par. 704.6 for "and executive session of the clergy members," it also provided in that same paragraph that "an executive session shall consist of the ordained members in full connection unless others are admitted by express action and invitation of the executive session."

In 1992, the General Conference redefined the executive session. The name was changed to "clergy session," and all clergy members of the Annual Conference are included: "members in full connection, probationary members, associate members, affiliate members, and local pastors under full-time appointment to a pastoral charge." (Pars. 705.6, 702.1)

In addition, "elected lay members or observers of the Board of Ordained ministry may attend and shall have voice in the clergy session," but without vote. (Par. 705.6)

Par. 422, unchanged, still calls for an executive session of clergy members in full connection. However, the wording of Par. 705.6 makes it clear that the newly-defined clergy session is the successor to what was once called executive session: "Questions relating to matters of ordination, character, and conference relations shall be the business of the clergy session. The actions of the clergy session shall be for and on behalf of the Annual Conference."

Since the 1992 General Conference took specific action to define the clergy session, its membership and its responsibilities in explicit detail, it must be concluded that Par. 705.6 is the controlling legislation, and that the executive session of clergy members in full connection shall be conducted in the setting and within the framework described in Par. 705.6. This in no way violates the constitutional right of ministerial members in full connection to vote on all matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of ministers. It does define the setting within which such votes shall be taken. The General Conference has authority under the Constitution to make this determination. (Par. 15)

Opening the clergy session to other than full members extends the covenant relation and the responsibility of confidentiality of the executive session. This principle is noted in Judicial Decision No. 406 relating to full information on candidates before the executive session. It is noted that any principle of confidentiality must be respected and preserved by anyone in attendance at both the Board of Ordained Ministry and Annual Conference Executive Session.


Par. 705.6 of the 1992 Discipline is constitutional. Par. 422 must be read in light of Par. 705.6 and the clergy executive session constituted accordingly. Clergy members in full connection have both voice and vote. Probationary members, associate members, affiliate members, local pastors under full-time appointment to a pastoral charge, and elected lay members or observers of the Board of Ordained Ministry may be present, with voice but without vote on ministerial matters.

Note: This copy subject to final editing and corrections.

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