Decision Number 561


April 17, 1986

Inclusion of Diaconal Ministers and Other Designated Lay Members in Formula for Equalization Under Constitution Par. 35, 1984 Discipline, As Amended.


No lay member, however elected or qualified for membership in an Annual Conference, can be excluded from the count of lay members prior to equalization of clergy and lay members.

Statement of Facts

The North Texas Conference in session in 1985 voted to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the meaning of Par. 35, of the Constitution and whether those lay members elected to the Annual Conference by office or as Diaconals can be excluded from the count of lay members prior to equalization of clergy and laity.

The North Texas Conference has indicated that the problem arose as a result of opposing interpretations of the paragraph as amended by the 1984 General Conference and the annual conferences.


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2615 of the 1984 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

Constitution Par. 35 of the 1984 Discipline as amended now reads:

The Annual Conference shall be composed of ministerial members as defined by the General Conference, together with a lay member elected by each charge, the diaconal ministers, the Conference president of United Methodist Women, the conference president of United Methodist Men, the conference lay leader, district lay leaders, the president or equivalent officer of the conference youth organization, and two young persons under twenty-five (25) years of age from each district to be selected in such manner as may be determined by the Annual Conference....

If the lay membership should number less than the ministerial members of the Annual Conference, the Annual Conference shall, by its own formula, provide for the election of additional lay members to equalize lay and ministerial membership of the Annual Conference.

This paragraph begins by listing the basic membership of the annual conference. All the persons listed are members. The paragraph continues with language stating that if the total of all those lay members listed is less than the ministerial membership then there shall be a formula used to make the two groups equal in number.

The Discipline classifies diaconal ministers as lay persons. For example, 314.1:

A person appointed as a diaconal minister to a local congregation or larger parish shall be a member of that local church and a voting member of its Charge Conference . . . and a lay member of the Annual Conference in which that local congregation or larger parish is located.

Further, 309 delineated the rights of Diaconal Ministers and states:

The diaconal minister ... shall be eligible to serve as a lay person on boards, commissions, or committees of the Annual Conference and hold office on the same; shall be eligible for election as a lay delegate to the General or Jurisdictional Conference.

The Judicial Council has previously ruled on matters of membership in the Annual Conference. See Decisions 378, 479 and 553.

The Constitution provides a clear and unambiguous method for determining the membership of an annual conference.


Lay members elected to an Annual Conference by virtue of office or special designation including Diaconal Ministers (Discipline 35) cannot be excluded from the count of lay members prior to the process of equalization of ministerial and lay members.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

©2023 United Methodist Communications. All Rights Reserved