Decision Number 143
Question-When an Annual Conference Is Incorporated Should the Sale of Property of an Abandoned Church Be Authorized by Action of the Conference Corporation in Session or by Action of the Annual Conference in Session as an Ecclesiastical Body?
The sale of property of an abandoned church should and must be authorized by action of an Annual Conference in session as an ecclesiastical body.
Statement of Facts
The Ohio Annual Conference is incorporated. At each annual meeting of the Conference, a meeting of the members of the Conference Corporation is held. These meetings are referred to as corporate sessions and the President of the Board of Trustees or Directors of the corporation presides at such meetings. The Bishop presides at the other meetings of the Conference. Such meetings are referred to as ecclesiastical sessions of the Conference. At the Annual Conference held in 1957, the sale of property of an abandoned church was considered at a meeting of the members of the Conference Corporation or in other words in a corporate session of the Conference. The question arose as to whether the sale of the property of an abandoned church should be authorized at a corporate session of the Conference or by action taken at an ecclesiastical session.
The Conference has requested the Judicial Council to rule on the question. This request is in the nature of a request for a Declaratory Decision.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 914 (8) of the 1956 Discipline of The Methodist Church to hear and determine the matter here submitted.
Analysis and Rationale
Paragraph 188 of the 1956 Discipline of The Methodist church provides:
"With the consent of the presiding bishop and of a majority of the district superintendents and of the District Board of Church Location and Building (Paragraphs 721-24) of the district in which the action is contemplated, the Annual Conference may declare any local church within its bounds discontinued or abandoned. It shall be the duty of its Board of Trustees (Paragraph 190) to make such disposition of the property thereof as the Annual Conference shall direct; and if not such lawful trustees remain, or if for any reason said trustees fail to make such disposition, then it shall be the duty of the trustees of the Annual Conference to sell or dispose of said property in accordance with the direction of the Annual Conference; . . ."
This section also provides that:
"All the deeds, records, and other official and legal papers of a Methodist church that is declared to be abandoned or otherwise discontinued shall be collected by the district superintendent in whose district said church was located and shall be deposited for permanent safekeeping with the secretary of the Annual Conference."
This section also provides:
"When a church property has been abandoned by its membership and no abandonment action has been taken by the Annual Conference, and circumstances make immediate action necessary, the Annual Conference trustees may take control of the property, with the consent of the presiding bishop and the District Board of Church Location and Building of the district in which the property is located. And in the event of the sale or lease of said property the trustees of the Annual Conference shall recommend to the Annual Conference at its next session the disposition of the proceeds derived from such sale or lease."
It is clear from the language of this section that the abandonment of a local church and the disposition of its property are matters to be determined by the Annual Conference as an ecclesiastical body. Not only is the consent of the presiding bishop and a majority of the district superintendents required before the Annual Conference may declare any local church within its bounds discontinued or abandoned, but in addition, the paragraph requires that all of the deeds and records of the abandoned church be collected by the district superintendent in whose district the church is located and be deposited for safekeeping with the secretary of the Annual Conference.
In Decision No. 38 of the Judicial Council, given May 9, 1946, it appears that the Judicial Council considered a ruling of Bishop William C. Martin made at a meeting of the Central Kansas Annual Conference, which had been incorporated under authority given by Paragraph 625 of the Discipline. The Bishop's ruling reviewed by the Judicial Council was:
"The Central Kansas Conference of The Methodist Church is an incorporated body and is competent in any regular session of the Conference to transact any and all business of a legal nature that may be regularly brought before it."
The Judicial Council in that decision held that where an Annual Conference has been incorporated and the corporation has adopted by-laws, the corporate sessions must be called in the manner provided by the by-laws and that when the Conference is once in such corporate session it may exercise all of the powers of a corporation to amend its charter and by-laws and to transact any and all business of a legal nature that may be regularly brought before it. This decision makes a distinction between the Conference as an ecclesiastical organization and as a corporate body. Even though an Annual Conference is incorporated, under the provisions of Paragraph 625, 1956 Discipline, it continues to retain its character as an ecclesiastical organization with the powers and duties relating to ecclesiastical matters provided in the Discipline. The effect of this decision is to establish the rule that only when a corporate meeting has been called, as provided in the corporate by-laws, can the corporation transact such business of a legal nature as may be brought before it. It appears to be clear from this that conversely such business as might be of an ecclesiastical nature could only be transacted at a meeting of the Conference presided over by the Bishop and help in accordance with the provisions of the Discipline of The Methodist Church, that is, at an ecclesiastical session of the Annual Conference.
It is the decision of the Judicial Council that the sale of property of an abandoned church should and must be authorized by action of an Annual Conference in session as an ecclesiastical body.