Memorandum Number 535


October 27, 1983

Jurisdiction of the Judicial Council to Make a Ruling in the Nature of a Declaratory Decision Upon a Petition From a Division of a General Board


On January 28, 1983 the Chairman of the Division of Ordained Ministry of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry submitted to the Judicial Council a request for a declaratory decision as to the meaning, application and effect of Par. 37 of the Constitution as it relates to the authority of Annual Conferences to establish higher standards for admission to ministerial membership than those prescribed by the Discipline. The Chairman stated that the Executive Committee of the Division had voted to make the request and that the Division would vote at its spring meeting, April 4-6, 1983. We have been advised that the division did act upon the matter, but upon inquiry we have been told that the Board has not acted.

The jurisdiction of the Judicial Council to make rulings in the nature of a declaratory decision is limited by the provisions of Par. 2615 of the Discipline. In pertinent part 2615.2 provides:

The following bodies of The United Methodist Church are hereby authorized to make such petitions to the Judicial Council for declaratory decisions: . . . (c) Any General Conference board or body, on matters relating to or affecting the work of such board or body; . . .

What is a General Conference body? Nowhere in the Discipline, or even in the unofficial glossary, do we find any definition. We do see that the glossary defines a board as a continuing body of the Church. A commission at the general level is defined as an organization established by the General Conference for the fulfillment of a specific function. A committee is defined at every level of the Church as a body, either temporary or permanent, created to carry out certain functions of mission, study, oversight or review. A council on the general level is defined as a continuing body of the Church created by the General Conference or established in its Constitution. The examples given are the General Council on Finance and Administration, The General Council on Ministries, The Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council.

The general agencies are defined in Par. 801 and include councils, boards, commissions or committees constituted by the General Conference, but do not include divisions of general boards. A division is defined by Par. 803.26(a) as a major component within a board or council along functional lines for the purpose of accomplishing a part of the total work of the board or council.

We find that within the intent and purpose of Par. 2615 a General Conference body means a general agency, but not a division or committee of a General Conference board, commission or council.

The Judicial Council has only such jurisdiction as is expressly granted to it by Par. 61 of the Constitution or by the General Conference pursuant to Par. 61.5. As held in Decision No. 29, we may not assume jurisdiction to render a declaratory decision unless jurisdiction has been clearly vested in the Council. As stated in Decision No. 255, our long established policy is to construe our jurisdiction strictly and with restraint.

The Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction to make a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision upon the request of the Division of Ordained Ministry of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

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