Memorandum Number 393
Petition from the Iowa Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision onthe Legality of the Last Sentence in Paragraph 657 of the 1972 Discipline.
Statement of Facts
This petition will remain on the docket of the Judicial Council for consideration and determination at another session not later than the first regular session of the Judicial Council following the adjournment of the 1976 General Conference.
Paragraph 657 of the 1972 Discipline reads as follows:
"The Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference shall have the same right as that given to Central Conferences in Par. 631.9, .10 to make such changes and adaptations regarding the ministry and ordination of ministers as the effective use of indigenous leadership in the Missionary Conference may require; provided that no action shall be taken which is contrary to the Constitution and the General Rules of The United Methodist Church. Any such ordination would be effective only within the bounds of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference."
The question asked of the Judicial Council is the legality of the last sentence in the paragraph which limits the authority of ordination.
We are aware of a widespread concern in the Church about the relationships of ethnic minorities in the Church. We have examined the provisions of the Discipline concerning a Mission and a Missionary Conference and find many ambiguities and contradictions when one tries to find the answers to some basic questions. What constitutes membership in a Mission or a Missionary Conference? The General Minutes state that "Mission Conferences do not have ministerial members." Some provisions of the Discipline seem to agree with that. Others seem to assume ministerial and lay membership and rights of reception on trial and ordination. What are their powers of ordination, if any, and what is the relationship of such ministerial membership and ordination to the ministerial membership of Annual Conferences in a connectional Church? The questions are many, and they are important, and they deserve careful answers.
In the former The Methodist Church there had been provisions in the Discipline for a Mission which had certain rights of ordination of "Mission Deacons and Elders" who had to meet the same qualifications as ministers seeking ordination in Annual Conferences and who could transfer to Annual Conferences with the same status they had in the Mission. The Discipline of The United Methodist Church still provides for a Mission with ordination powers but the right to transfer is now qualified.
In 1968 the General Conference of The United Methodist Church apparently sought to grant the Indian Mission in Oklahoma the authority to fix its own standards for ministry and ordination by bringing the Indian Mission under Paragraph 631.9, .10, the paragraph relating to the powers of a Central Conference. (See Par. 658, 1968 Discipline)
A new conference had come into being in The United Methodist Church, The Missionary Conference (Par. 654). In 1972 the General Conference changed the Indian Mission in Oklahoma to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and kept the special grant of powers over the ministry which became Paragraph 657 in the 1792 Discipline.
The special General Conference action was less in congrouous in 1968 when a Mission apparently had some rights of ordination, although there is ambiguity here, too. But in 1972 the Indian Mission in Oklahoma became the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and the Discipline (Par. 655.3) denies a Missionary Conference the right to grant ministerial orders.
Furthermore, the Judicial Council, in Decision No. 313 in 1969 declared that Paragraph 631.9 did not authorize a Central Conference to add or subtract from the basic ministerial obligations established and preempted by the General Conference. The same ruling would certainly hold for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, assuming that it had ordination powers.
All of this but adds confusion to the picture. Furthermore, the Council feels the need for far more background information from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, from the Board of Global Ministries, etc. to properly answer this petition.
We have had correspondence and conversations with Bishop Paul W. Milhouse of the Oklahoma Area and with Dr. Robert Watts Thornburg of the Division of the Ordained Ministry and a brief from Dr. Thornburg. We are assured that efforts are under way to prepare certain proposed actions for the 1976 General Conference designed to harmonize, clarify and correct certain ambiguities and contradictions in current legislation and to deal constructively with the problems raised by the special legislation of Paragraph 657 and other related paragraphs. We feel that this would be a far better answer to the question before us in this petition than a ruling by the Judicial Council at this time.
We therefore keep the petition from the Iowa Annual Conference on the docket of the Judicial Council for consideration and determination at another session but not later than the first regular session of the Judicial Council following the adjournment of the 1976 General Conference.