Decision Number 339


April 23, 1971

Request of the College of Bishops, North Central Jurisdiction, for a Declaratory Decision Concerning the Constitutionality, Meaning, Application and Effect of Paragraph 665.1 of the Discipline as Amended by the 1970 General Conference and Related Questions Arising in a Proposed Restructuring of the Central Illinois Annual Conference.


The 1970 amendment of Paragraph 665.1 of the Discipline is so vague, unclear and devoid of defined standards and guidelines as to amount to an impermissible delegation of legislative powers by the General Conference. As such it is unconstitutional.

Statement of Facts

The Central Illinois Annual Conference in session at Jacksonville, Illinois on June 11, 1970, elected a Committee on Mission and Structure to conduct a study of the purposes and organization of the Central Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church. The motion to establish the Committee on Mission and Structure included the instruction that professional management consultants be retained to work with and through this committee. The study was made as directed, and a printed report of the committee findings and recommendations mailed to all members of the conference in January of 1971. Two public hearings on the findings and recommendations were thereafter held in each district.

The recommendations involve an almost total restructuring of the Central Illinois Annual Conference. If all recommendations were adopted, the new structure would bear little resemblance to the present structure of the conference or to other Annual Conferences of The United Methodist Church. A communication from Bishop Lance Webb indicates that it has not yet been decided which recommendations will be presented for approval of the Annual Conference.

A majority of the bishops of the North Central Jurisdiction have requested a declaratory decision concerning the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of Paragraph 665.1 of the Discipline as amended. Several specific issues relating to this determination were raised in a request for guidance concerning the legality of:
A. A body such as the Budget and Finance Committee carrying out the functions of World Service and Finance (Paragraphs 898-908).

B. Such a body reporting to the Executive Council of the Annual Conference.

C. The legality of the Board of Pensions, the successor agency to the Conference Board of Pensions, reporting to the Annual Conference through the Executive Council.


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1715 of the Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

A deep concern for improvement in the administration, functioning and operation of the Central Illinois Annual Conference led to the creation of a Committee on Mission and Structure and instruction to the committee to have a professional, in-depth study of the conference structure made. The study made by professional management consultants is comprehensive. It has followed standard procedures of investigation and analysis of program and structure. The recommendations, if adopted, might indeed create a more efficient and effective structure for the performance of the work of the Central Illinois Annual Conference.

The United Methodist Church is, however, a connectional church. Through its Constitution (Par. 15) it gives to the General Conference full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional. In the exercise of that authority, the General Conference has mandated certain boards to promote and administer connectional enterprises in the structure of all Annual Conferences. Not only has it mandated that these boards shall exist, but in numerous instances it has also defined their duties and responsibilities with precision and indicated their composition and manner of selection. Among such mandates are those applying to the Commission on World Service and Finance (Par. 898) and to the Conference Board of Pensions (Par. 1380).

The question of the application of Paragraph 665.1 of the Discipline in relationship to Annual Conference structure was before the Judicial Council in our Decision No. 314, the Digest of which states:

"An Annual Conference may not restructure itself in such a manner that it disregards the mandatory structures established by the General Conference and described specifically in the Discipline."

The Analysis in that case goes further to point out that certain units of the structure of an Annual Conference are mandated specifically while others are permissive. In some instances, the Discipline says that the Annual Conference shall have such structures and that in other instances it provides that the Annual Conference may have other structure units. There is, therefore, a degree of permissiveness and flexibility already built into the system.

The 1970 General Conference added a modifying paragraph 665.1 of the Discipline which reads:

"Where size, circumstance, and specific mission responsibilities demand, an Annual Conference may, in consultation with and approval by the presiding bishop, modify the organizational structure as ordered by the General Conference; provided that adequate provisions shall be made in such an organizational plan for relating the Annual Conference structures to appropriate jurisdictional and general church agencies and structures, and provided further, that the essential functions as required by the Discipline shall be cared for."

The obvious purpose of this amendment was to provide for flexibility in Annual Conference structure. It seems equally obvious that it was not the intent to remove all restrictions, for then there would be no need to place any restrictions relative to conditions under which the amendment could be applied. No existing legislation mandating specific boards or commissions was repealed or specifically amended. All of these stand as before. If it had been intended to limit the force of Decision No. 314 of the Judicial Council in so far as certain mandated boards or commissions were concerned, this could have been done simply by changing the mandatory "shall" to the permissive "may."

But the legislation as it was adopted raises still another issue. That is the issue of when it may be applied so that Annual Conference structures may be modified under its provisions. When do "size, circumstance, and specific mission responsibilities demand"? Who is to determine, and on what basis, when such special conditions obtain? May each Annual Conference make this determination on its own volition? Is it the joint responsibility of the presiding bishop and the conference? What are the "essential functions as required by the Discipline" and when are they "cared for" by the "adequate provisions" of the new organizational structure?

The qualifications stated are not guidelines or objective standards sufficient to provide answers to these questions nor does legislative history enlighten. If each Annual Conference is free to decide for itself, without guidelines or controlling standards from any other source regarding any of the restrictive elements listed, the total connectional system of the church will be undercut at the Annual Conference level, not promoted and administered as the Constitution contemplates. The General Conference may not so delegate its constitutional responsibilities.

Because of the vague generality of the language in the 1970 amendment to Paragraph 665.1 of the Discipline, it is impossible to determine when the authority purported to be granted may properly be applied and it therefore stands null and void.

Without recourse to this invalid amendment, however, there is still possibility for flexibility in the structuring of an Annual Conference. A case in point is one of the illustrations raised in the present petition, namely, ". . . the Conference Board of Pensions, reporting to the Annual Conference through the Executive Council." The General Conference does not provide for an Executive Council for an Annual Conference, neither does it prohibit such a structure, and therefore it is in the realm of permissive flexibility. The General Conference does require that the Conference Board of Pensions report to the Annual Conference. It does not indicate that such a report may not be channeled through an Executive Council so that this too lies in the realm of permissive flexibility. It should be made clear that the report must be the report of the Conference Board of Pensions to the Annual Conference even though it is presented to the conference by a representative of the Executive Council.

This same approach may be applied to other mandatory boards and commissions and units of the Annual Conference.


The 1970 amendment of the General Conference to Paragraph 665.1 of the Discipline constitutes an impermissible delegation of legislative power by the General Conference to the Annual Conferences and contravenes the requirements of Paragraph 15 of the Constitution.

Dissenting Opinion

We respectfully dissent. We do not find the 1970 amendment to Paragraph 665.1 either unclear or devoid of definite and objective standards.

Each conference decides for itself when and what circumstances make desirable a modification of its organizational structure. The presiding bishop must be consulted and approve. The modifying structures must relate reason ably to the agencies and structures of the general church. The essential functions of the Annual Conference must be provided for.

We believe these tests are adequate guidelines. If experience were to prove them to be otherwise, the General Conference may withdraw this modifying authority. In the meantime, Annual Conferences might have experimented with improving structure within the guidelines of Paragraph 665.1.

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