Decision Number 103
Decision Of Bishop Clare Purcell in the 1953 Session of the North Alabama Annual Confer- ence on Appeal from the Decision of the Dis- trict Superintendent Made in the Quar- terly Conference of Inglenook First Methodist Church, Upholding the Removal of William Westbrook, Jr., as Steward and Trustee
A Steward and Trustee having been Church Treasurer for years and having failed of re-election, and then withholding the Church records and account books from his successor and from the Commission on Finance and Auditing Committee, was acting at variance to his duties as a Steward and Trustee, and was subject to being, removed from the offices of Steward and Trustee by the Quarterly Conference to which he was amenable without having been previously notified of such proposed action, and without charges being preferred against him under Paragraph 1001 to 1005 inclusive of the Discipline.
The Board of Stewards and the Board of Trustees are subject to the Quarterly Conference, and so are the individual Stewards and Trustees, and when a Steward or Trustee acts contrary to his duties as such the Quarterly Conference has the inherent right and authority to vacate his offices as Steward and Trustee.
Statement of Facts
The record in this case is too voluminous to insert in full in this statement. Apparently from the record, and the exhibits attached to the Decision of the District Superintendent, William M Westbrook, Jr., was Treasurer of the Inglenook First Methodist Church for a number of years until his successor was elected in 1952; that he refused to turn over to the incoming Treasurer and the Auditing Committee the books and records presumably in his possession and refused to have such books and records audited; that the Quarterly Conference ordered him to turn such books and records over to the Trustees, or the Commission on Finance. As provided by Par. 139 of the Discipline the District Superintendent called a group Quarterly Conference including the Quarterly Conference of Inglenook First Methodist Church to be held at Fairmount on June 5, 1953. This was the third Quarterly Conference of the Inglenook Church, and due notice of same was given. At this Quarterly Conference the Nominating Committee submitted the following written recommendation:
"We, the Nominating Committee of Inglenook First Methodist Church, make the following recommendation to the Quarterly Conference held at Fairmount Methodist Church, June 5, 1953 at 7:30 p.m.
"We do hereby recommend that William M. Westbrook, Jr., be relieved of the position of Steward and Trustee of the Inglenook First Methodist Church for the following reasons:
1. For refusing to turn church financial records over to the Church as requested by the Board of Stewards and the Quarterly Conference.
2. For not attending church, Stewards' meetings, Trustees' meetings, and for not contributing in any way toward the church program.
"For authority we refer to the 1952 Discipline of The Methodist Church, page 76, Article 191.
"We further recommend that A. J. Moore be named to fill the unexpired term of William M. Westbrook, Jr., on the Board of Trustees."
This recommendation was adopted and William M. Westbrook, Jr., was declared removed from the offices of Steward and Trustee and A. J. Moore was declared elected as his successor as Trustee.
The District Superintendent was called upon to render a Decision on the legality of the action of the Quarterly Conference in removing William M. Westbrook, Jr., from the offices of Steward and Trustee.
G. M. Davenport, District Superintendent, ruled that the Quarterly Conference under such circumstances had the right to remove William M. Westbrook, Jr., from the offices of Steward and Trustee at a regular session of the Quarterly Conference without giving William M. Westbrook, Jr., any advance notice of any such action being contemplated.
William M. Westbrook, Jr., and his associates appealed to Bishop Clare Purcell, President of the next Session of the North Alabama Conference. Bishop Purcell in open Annual Conference session on October 2, 1953, ruled thereon as follows:
"The undersigned as Presiding Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The Methodist Church, in which Inglenook First Methodist Church is located, has read the record as submitted in this file." (the appeal file)
"He is of the opinion that the decision of the District Superintendent Dr. G. M. Davenport as herewith attached, is correct. It is, therefore, affirmed."
Dr. G. M. Davenport, District Superintendent, on request of interested parties, made a ruling on points of law in the Quarterly Conference of the Inglenook First Methodist Church under authority of Sec. 14, Par. 362 of the Discipline. A written appeal was made from his Decision to Bishop Clare Purcell, the President of the North Alabama Conference.
In open session of the Annual Conference Bishop Clare Purcell delivered in writing and read his Decision on the appeal. No appeal was taken to the Judicial Council, as provided in Par. 1034 of Discipline.
The question arises: In the absence of such an appeal does Judicial Councilhave jurisdiction to review this Decision?
The Constitution, Par. 43, See. 3, gives the Judicial Council authority "to pass upon Decisions of Law made by Bishops in Annual an District Conferences." The Judicial Council has interpreted this to mean that it is the duty of the Judicial Council to pass upon all such Decisions regardless of their origin. Par. 1034 is statutory and not Constitutional, therefore, if there is a conflict between it and the Constitution Par. 1034 must yield.
The Judicial Council determined this question in its Decision No. 29, made December 4, 1944, in which case a Quarterly Conference appealed direct to the Judicial Council from a Decision made by the District Superintendent in the Quarterly Conference. The Judicial Council held that under this Constitution and laws it had no jurisdiction to determine such an appeal, but added:
"It may be stated that this does not mean that there is no remedy in a case of this character." ****
"Par. 362, subsection 14 makes it the duty of the District Superintendent 'To decide all questions of law which may arise in the business of the Quarterly Conference, Subject to an Appeal to the President of the next Annual Conference. Thus a procedure is provided whereby any such question can be acted upon by the presiding bishop of the Annual Conference, whose ruling thereon becomes subject to review by the Judicial Council."
Accordingly it is the Decision of the Judicial Council that it has jurisdiction
to review such Decision made by Bishop Clare Purcell on appeal from the Decision of the District Superintendent made in the Quarterly Conference of Inglenook First Methodist Church.
Analysis and Rationale
William M. Westbrook, Jr., based his appeal on the following points:
1. That he could not be removed from the office of Steward or Trustee except on formal charges being preferred and his being given a hearing on same. In support of this point he cited Paragraphs 1001 to 1005, inclusive, of the Discipline.
2. That under Par. 208 of the Discipline Stewards are elected annually; that there is no provision in the Discipline for removing a steward; that a new steward could be elected only in case of a vacancy, and that since he had not resigned there was no vacancy to fill.
3. That under Par. 160 of the Discipline Trustees are elected at the final meeting of the Quarterly Conference; that there is no provision for the election of a Trustee at any other time except to fill a vacancy as provided in Par. 161; that he had not resigned, and that there was no provision in the Discipline for the removal of a Trustee except for the refusal to execute a legal document ordered executed by the Quarterly Conference as provided in Par. 191, and that no such refusal was involved in his case.
The District Superintendent answered the request for a ruling essentially as follows.
After stating the facts, as set out in the Statement above, he ruled as follows:
1. The Quarterly Conference was the regular Third Quarterly Conference; that notice of same had been duly given, and that it had the right to transact any business authorized or permitted by the Discipline
2. That said Quarterly Conference did have authority to remove William M. Westbrook, Jr., as Steward; that it did not have to prefer charges against him under Paragraphs 1001 and 1005 inclusive, of the Discipline; and that it did not have to notify William M. Westbrook, Jr., of the proposed action by which he was removed as Steward.
3. That under the circumstances said Quarterly Conference had authority to remove William M. Westbrook, Jr., as Trustee; that it did not have to notify William M. Westbrook, Jr., of the proposed action by which he would be removed as Trustee; that the failure to execute a legal document ordered by the Quarterly Conference (Par. 191) was not the only ground for such removal; that the Quarterly Conference under Section 5, Paragraph 157 of the Discipline has the right to remove a Trustee for causes beyond that cause set out in Par. 191.
4. That formal charges did not have to be preferred against William M. Westbrook, Jr., as provided in Pars. 1001-1005 inclusive of the Discipline in order to remove him as Trustee.
In analyzing the points of appeal and Decision of the District Superintendent on which they are based, attention is here called to the following facts:
First: Par. 143 of the Discipline provides that Stewards shall be elected annually, but it does not prohibit the election of individual Stewards at other sessions of the Quarterly Conference. The Quarterly Conference has the right to fill vacancies on the Board of Stewards at any session however the vacancy may have occurred. Par. 208.
Second: Par. 164 of the Discipline provides that the Board of Trustees "shall be subject to the directions of, and be responsible to, the Quarterly Conference." If the whole Board is subject to the direction of and responsible to the Quarterly Conference, each member is likewise subject to the direction of and responsible to the Quarterly Conference.
Third: Par. 206 of the Discipline provides that the Official Board of whicheach Steward is a member "shall be responsible to the Quarterly Conference." Likewise that means that each member of the Board is so responsible.
Fourth: Par. 157 of the Discipline provides that the Quarterly Conference shall be vested with power and authority as hereinafter set forth in connection with the property, both real and personal of said local church, namely: -
"5. To do any and all things necessary to exercise such other powers and duties relating to the property, real and personal, of the local Church concerned as may be committed to it by the Discipline."
The Church records and account books are property - personal property. The wilful withholding of same from his successor and from the Commission on Finance, the Auditing Committee and the Trustees was wholly contrary to the duties of a Steward, a Trustee and an ex-official of the Church. In this connection it may be noted that William M. Westbrook, Jr., in his appeal, made no denial of the allegations set out in the Report of the Nominating Committee on which he was removed as Steward and Trustee. It would be an unwarranted infringement upon the prerogatives of the Quarterly Conference to which he was amenable that it could not discontinue his membership both as a Steward and as a Trustee.
It is therefore the Decision of the Judicial Council that no notice to William M. Westbrook, Jr., of such proposed action by the Quarterly Conference was necessary; that no charges under Paragraphs 1001-1005 were necessary; that the regular Third Quarterly Conference had the inherent right and authority by written law and by implication to enforce its authority against an individual Steward and Trustee who was acting at variance to his duties as such Steward and Trustee; and in the exercise of that authority had the right to discontinue his membership on the Board of Stewards and vacate his office as a Steward, and to discontinue his membership as a Trustee, and vacate his office as a Trustee; and under Paragraph 161, the Quarterly Conference had the right to fill the vacancy thus created. Accordingly the Decision of Bishop Clare Purcell, on the appeal, affirming the decision of Dr. G. M. Davenport, District Superintendent, is in all things affirmed