Decision Number 184
Request of the West Virginia Annual Conference for An Opinion As to the Legality Or Legal Effect of the Amendment of One of Its Standing Rules to Permit the Election of Supply Pastors, Who Have Been Ordained Elders and Are Serving Under Episcopal Appointment, to Membership on Conference Boards and Agencies
There is no provision in the law of the Church which authorizes the Judicial Council to hear and determine a question of law or the legality of an act, legislation, or a rule of an Annual Conference upon direct application of that conference, except upon an appeal from a bishop's ruling made by one-fifth of the conference present and voting. Nor is there any provision of law which authorizes the Judicial Council to render a declaratory decision as to the meaning, application or effect of an act, legislation or ruling of an Annual Conference at the request of the conference adopting such act, legislation or rule.
Statement of Facts
On Thursday, June 2, 1960, the West Virginia Annual Conference upon recommendation of its Committee on Standing Rules, adopted a resolution amending Standing Rule Number 24 of said conference by adding the words "or Supply Pastors who have been ordained elders and are serving under episcopal appointment, provided, however, that such membership does not conflict with the Discipline of The Methodist Church" after the words "Effective Relation" in line 11 of said rule so that the same now reads as follows:
"Membership may be held on only one of the following Boards, Committees or Commissions: World Service and Finance, Evangelism, Education, Trustees of Asbury Educational Fund, Hospitals and Homes, Missions, Town and Country Work, Ministerial Training and Qualification, Conference Relations, Pension Funds, Inc., and Christian Social Concerns, and no one shall remain a member of the same for more than eight consecutive years, effective at the end of the quadrennium ending in 1960 and succeeding quadrenniums, nor shall any minister be made a member of, or hold office in, any Conference Board, Committee or Commission, except those in Effective Relation or Supply Pastors who have been ordained elders and are serving under episcopal appointment, provided, however, that such membership does not conflict with the 'Discipline of The Methodist Church.'"
The language added by the action of the Annual Conference is emphasized for clarity.
By concurrent action of the conference, the amendment to the rule was "referred to the Judicial Council." No other action was taken by the conference.
Pursuant to the direction of the Annual Conference, the secretary referred the matter to the Judicial Council by submitting a copy of the resolution, which is as follows:
"Report of Committee on Standing Rules - (3) In line 11 following the words 'Effective Relations,' add the words 'or supply pastors who have been ordained elders and are serving under episcopal appointment, provided however, that such membership does not conflict with the Discipline of The Methodist Church' was on motion adopted and referred to the Judicial Council. The secretary was instructed to transmit the same."
Upon request of the Judicial Council that he make the request of the Annual Conference more specific, the secretary of the West Virginia Annual Conference sent a letter, dated December 1, 1960, to the secretary of the Judicial Council in which he stated:
"Stated very simply the information we wanted was simply this:
'Is it legal under the Discipline of The Methodist Church for "Approved Supply Pastors" who have been ordained Elders and are serving under episcopal appointment to hold membership on Conference Boards and Agencies?'
"This matter is more of a definitive request than anything else, as I see it. There are several Approved Supply Pastors in the W. Va. Conference who would make a fine contribution as members of Boards and Agencies such as the Board of Education, the Board of Evangelism, etc. The question is whether or not this would be in violation of any section of the Discipline.
"Standing Rule #24 on page 426 of the 1960 Journal of the W. Va. Conference was amended this year to make such membership on Boards and Agencies possible for Approved Supply Pastors. Our question is concerning the legality. Can Approved Supply Pastors so serve? If there is further information you desire please feel free to write me." (Emphasis is added.)
It is clear that, because of the proviso, or savings clause, exempting from the operation of the added language anything contrary to the provisions of the Discipline, the amendment of the Standing Rule in question is not contrary to the Discipline of The Methodist Church. However, this does not answer the question propounded by the secretary of the West Virginia Annual Conference as stated in his letter.
The analysis sets forth the reasons the Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction in this case.
Analysis and Rationale
While by its own language the whole resolution of the West Virginia Annual Conference is "referred to the Judicial Council," we must assume that the purpose of the reference was not to determine the legality of the adoption of the amendment of the rule, subject to the savings clause but, rather, as suggested by the secretary of the conference, to determine the legality of the amendment to the rule standing alone.
There are several ways in which a question of law may come to the Judicial Council from an Annual Conference.
Article VII, Division Three of the Constitution of the Church, codified as Paragraph 40, 1960 Discipline, provides that the bishop presiding over an Annual Conference shall decide all questions of law coming before him in the regular business of the session, and that such Episcopal Decisions shall not be authoritative except for the pending case until it shall have been passed upon by the Judicial Council. This paragraph further provides that "Each bishop shall report in writing annually all his decisions of law, with a syllabus of the same to the Judicial Council which shall affirm, modify or reverse them." This provision authorizes the Judicial Council to affirm, modify or reverse any decision of law made by a bishop when the matter is properly before them. Paragraph 909 of the Discipline provides that the Judicial Council shall pass upon such decisions of law.
Subparagraph 2 of Article II of Division Four of the Constitution of the Church, codified as Paragraph 43, 1960 Discipline, provides that the Judicial Council shall have authority to hear and determine any appeal from a bishop's decision on a question of law made in the Annual Conference when said appeal has been made by one-fifth of the conference present and voting, and Paragraph 908, 1960 Discipline, states that the Judicial Council shall hear and determine any such appeal.
In the record before us, there is no indication that either of these procedures was followed.
There is no provision in the law of the Church which authorizes the Judicial Council to hear and determine a question of law or the legality of an act, legislation or a rule of an Annual Conference upon direct application of that conference without first obtaining a ruling from a bishop made during a regular business session of the conference.
Is the request of the West Virginia Annual Conference a request for a declaratory decision under the provisions of Paragraph 914 of the Discipline? This paragraph provides that "when the General Conference shall have passed any act or legislation that appears to be unconstitutional or subject to more than one interpretation, or when any paragraph or paragraphs of the Discipline seem to be of doubtful meaning or application, the Judicial Council, on petition as hereinafter provided, shall have jurisdiction to make a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of such act, legislation or paragraph or paragraphs of the Discipline." This paragraph also provides that any Annual Conference may file a petition for such a declaratory decision on matters relating to the work therein.
It is clear that the provision for declaratory decisions relates to any act or legislation of the General Conference and that this remedy is available when such act or legislation appears to be unconstitutional or subject to more than one interpretation, or to be of doubtful meaning or application. There is no provision in the law of the Church which permits an Annual Conference to request a declaratory decision as to the meaning, application, effect, or legality of an act, legislation, or rule passed or adopted by that conference.
We hold that the request of the West Virginia Annual Conference concerning the legality of a rule adopted by that conference does not confer jurisdiction upon the Judicial Council to render a declaratory decision and that the only means by which the question submitted can be brought to the Judicial Council is upon an appeal from the bishop's ruling therein made by one-fifth of the conference present and voting and/or upon submission to the Judicial Council by the bishop of his decision as to the legality thereof made during a regular business session of the conference.
As was stated in Decision No. 153 of the Judicial Council, "The Judicial Council on several occasions has declined to take jurisdiction where the provisions of the Discipline were not carefully followed. It takes this position reluctantly but with the conviction that such provisions are for the protection of the proper judicial procedures of the Church."
Under the existing legislative provisions relating to the right of, and the method by which Annual Conferences may request decisions of the Judicial Council on matters of law and the provisions for declaratory decisions, the Judicial Council is without authority to take jurisdiction of the request of the West Virginia Annual Conference.