Decision Number 141
May an Annual Conference Adopt a Rule Establishing a Quorum for the Transaction of Business?
An Annual Conference may adopt a rule establishing a quorum for the transaction of business.
Statement of Facts
On May 24, 1956, during the regular session of the New York Annual Conference, the following resolution was presented for action:
"That the Conference establish a quorum for the conduct of business to consist of at least one-fourth of the lay and ministerial numbers."
Bishop F. B. Newell, presiding at the Conference, made a statement concerning the resolution and read a part of the ruling given by Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam during the New York Conference meeting at St. James Methodist Church, Kingston, New York, on May 3, 1945. Bishop Newell stated that if he ruled on the proposed resolution he would have to rule it out of order. He suggested that it would be better to refer the matter to the Judicial Council. Thereafter a motion was made and carried that the matter be referred to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction to hear and determine the question submitted by the New York Annual Conference for a declaratory decision, under the provisions of Paragraph 914, sub-paragraph 8, of the 1956 Discipline of The Methodist Church.
Analysis and Rationale
Paragraph 634 of the 1956 Discipline provides that:
"The Annual Conference may make rules to govern its own procedure; provided that no Annual Conference shall make any rule contrary to the Constitution or to the powers granted by The General Conference."
The Constitution of the Church (Paragraph 4 of the 1956 Discipline) provides that there shall be Annual Conferences as the fundamental bodies in the Church, and in Section VII Article I of the Constitution (Paragraph 22 of the 1956 Discipline) it is stated that the Annual Conference is the basic body of the Church.
The ruling of Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam made at the meeting of the New York Conference in May 3, 1945, was considered and upheld by the Judicial Council in its Decision No. 36. The facts in that case were that prior to the annual meeting of the New York Conference held on May 3, 1945 the members of the Conference were strongly urged not to attend. This was done for the purpose of preventing the attendance from exceeding the limit established by a wartime regulation of the Office of Defense Transportation of the United States. As a result the attendance at the Conference was very small. Bishop Oxnam ruled that there was no quorum required for meetings of Annual Conferences and therefore those present at the Conference constituted a legal session.
Insofar as it related to the matter at hand, the only pertinent holding of that decision is that no quorum for an Annual Conference is established in the law of the Church. It does not hold that an Annual Conference may not adopt a rule or by-law establishing a quorum for the conduct of business.
The precedents referred to in Bishop Oxnam's ruling are not controlling. In effect the rule states in those rulings of The Methodist Episcopal Church and The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, made many years prior to unification and the adoption of the Constitution and Discipline of The Methodist Church, was that an Annual Conference has no quorum and might not establish a quorum for the transaction of business. In this connection it is important to note that the Discipline of The Methodist Protestant Church (1936), the other of the three uniting churches, as it existed at the time of unification provided that a majority of all members of the Annual Conference in attendance at an Annual Conference session should constitute a quorum. The precedents of all of the uniting churches are important insofar as they may give light concerning the intention of those who adopted the Constitution and Discipline of The Methodist Church. It appears that the three uniting churches did not have a uniform rule with respect to this subject.
It also appears that neither the Discipline of The Methodist Episcopal Church (1936) nor the Discipline of The Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1938) in effect at the time of unification and the adoption of the Constitution and Discipline of The Methodist Church contained a provision like or similar to the provisions of Paragraph 634 of the present Discipline. It necessarily follows that Paragraph 634 provides a new rule granting the Annual Conference the right to make the rules to govern its own procedure, the only limitation being that no such Conference shall make any rule contrary to the Constitution of The Methodist Church or to the powers granted by the General Conference.
Under the Constitution and the enactments of the General Conference of The Methodist Church the composition and character of the Annual Conference as the basic body of the church has been materially changed through the years.
Such precedents cannot stand as controlling in opposition to the clear language of the Discipline. There is no provision in the Constitution, or in the enactments of the General Conference prohibiting an Annual Conference from establishing a quorum for the transaction of its business nor is there any language indicating an intention to carry over into the law of the Church any one or either of the prior conflicting precedents. The affirmative provisions of Paragraph 634 of the Discipline control. This right, unless otherwise specifically limited, that is the right of adopting a rule fixing a quorum for the transaction of business, is a power inherent in any body. The General Conference of The Methodist Church has seen fit to adopt such a rule for itself. Paragraph 506 of the 1956 Discipline provides:
"When the General Conference is in session it shall require the presence of a majority of the whole number of delegates to the General Conference to constitute a quorum for the transaction of business; but a smaller number may take a recess or adjourn from day to day in order to secure a quorum and at the final session may approve the journal, order the record of the roll-call, and adjourn sine die."
It is therefore, the Decision of the Judicial Council that an Annual Conference may adopt a rule establishing a quorum for the conduct of its business.