Decision Number 474
Request for a Declaratory Decision Relative to a Number of Questions Relating to Actions Taken at a Local Church Charge Conference.
The Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction to consider the request because the Council's authority to issue declaratory decisions is limited to the making of rulings as to the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act or legislation passed by the General Conference, as provided for in Par. 2515 of the Discipline.
Statement of Facts
The North Carolina Annual Conference received a request from a member of a local church within that Conference. The petition asked the Conference to appeal to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision under Par. 2515 and was referred to the Committee on Resolutions and Reference of that Annual Conference. The Committee on Resolutions and Reference recommended that the Annual Conference not ask the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the questions contained in the petition. The Annual Conference session, however, rejected the report of the Committee and voted to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council. Amplifying material was forwarded to the Judicial Council by the Secretary of the Annual Conference and by the lay person who had originally presented the questions.
The Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction.
Analysis and Rationale
The petition from the North Carolina Annual Conference asks five questions relating to the action of a District Superintendent presiding over sessions of Charge Conferences. There is no request contained therein for a decision regarding the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of the Discipline or a portion thereof, though specific reference is made to paragraphs of the Discipline and interpretation and application are requested about itemized references.
While the material presented indicated that the questions had been referred to the Bishop there was no ruling made or even sought that would have permitted the Judicial Council to accept jurisdiction under Pars. 2511, 2512.
The Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction to consider the request because the Council's authority to issue declaratory decisions is limited to the making of rulings as to the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act or legislation passed by the General Conference, as provided for in Discipline Par. 2515.
I believe we have jurisdiction under Par. 2525. As I see it, we received from the Secretary of the North Carolina Annual Conference a petition for a declaratory decision as to the meaning, application or effect of certain portions of the Discipline, as contemplated by Par. 2515.1. The petition comes to us from an Annual Conference on matters relating to Annual Conferences or the work therein, as required by Par. 2515.2.
Additional material, some submitted with the petition and some subsequently indicate that the reason for the petition lies in certain actions taken and rulings made in a Charge Conference, and at least three special sessions of a Charge Conference of a local church in the North Carolina Annual Conference.
If I felt that what we had before us was a challenge to the validity of those actions and rulings, I would agree with the majority that we do not have jurisdiction.
An appeal on a question of law from a decision of a District Superintendent presiding in a Charge Conference is governed by Par. 2551.10 and goes to the Bishop presiding in the Annual Conference. Under Par. 2551.1 the appellant must give notice of appeal within thirty days, and under Par. 2551.4 when the right of appeal has been forfeited by neglect it cannot be revived by any subsequent appellate court. So far as we know there was no notice of appeal from any decision of the District Superintendent. There was no appeal to the presiding Bishop and we cannot review whatever actions were taken in the Charge Conference.
Where I differ from the majority is in believing we have before us, not an appeal from a decision of a District Superintendent, but rather a petition from an Annual Conference for a declaratory judgment as to the meaning, application and effect of certain sections of the Discipline.
The motion acted upon by the Conference, as reported to us by its secretary, was as follows:
"I move that the North Carolina Conference petition the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the following questions:
(1) Can the North Carolina Conference official presiding at a local church charge conference rule arbitrarily that the Chairman of the Board of 'Trustees of the local church duly elected in accordance with Paragraph 2424 and serving in accordance with Paragraph 248 is not a member of the charge conference solely because he does not contribute to the church budget?
(2) Does the Book of Discipline Paragraph 248 take precedence over Robert's Rules of Order entitling the Chairman of the Board of Trustees elected in accordance with Paragraph 2424 to serve until charges are brought against him for cause for removal from office?
(3) Will refusal to contribute to the budget of the local church alone constitute grounds for disqualification or removal from office of a member in good standing who supports the church with his prayers, presence, and gifts, and service in accordance with Paragraphs 215 and 219 of the Book of Discipline?
(4) Can the District Superintendent who presides at a regular charge conference rejecting the single figure asking without exception or objection following the debate and vote call a special session of the charge conference for the purpose of reversing the action rejecting the single figure asking at the regular charge conference in accordance with Paragraph 518, Paragraph 519, and Paragraph 522 of the Book of Discipline?
(5) Can the District Superintendent who presides at a regular charge conference approving the pastor's salary for the coming year without exception or objection after debate and vote call a special charge conference to change the pastor's salary set at the regular charge conference in accordance with Paragraph 518, Paragraph 519, and Paragraph 522 of the Book of Discipline?
The questions are not clearly stated. They contain some irrelevant and argumentative wording, but I believe they call for some interpretation of the specified sections of the Discipline. My answers would be as follows:
(1) The person elected by the Board of Trustees of a local church as its chairperson pursuant to Par. 2424.1, by virtue of Par. 248 is a member of the Administrative Board, and under Par. 242.2 is a member of the Charge Conference. There is no provision requiring contribution to the local church budget.
(2) The reference to Robert's Rules of Order is irrelevant, but Par. 248 specifies that the chairperson of the trustees of the local church is by virtue of such office a member of the Administrative Board, and Par. 242.2 provides that all members of the Administrative Board are members of the Charge Conference. Hence, so long as one is the chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the local church that person is a member of the Charge Conference.
(3) Par. 215 does not require one seeking full membership in the United Methodist Church to contribute to the budget of the local church. Par. 219 makes no such requirement of one seeking transfer from another Christian denomination. Such contribution is not a requirement for holding office in a local church.
(4) A District Superintendent may call a special session of a Charge Conference without limitation as to the purpose, except that it shall be stated in the call. Whether Pars. 518, 519, and 522 give him such authority we need not decide, since the authority is specifically given by Par. 242.6.
(5) This is essentially the same question as number 4 and the answer is the same. Under Par. 242.6 the District Superintendent, after consultation with the pastor of the local charge, may call a special session of a Charge Conference for whatever purpose is stated in the call.
Leonard D. Slutz