Decision Number 848


October 29, 1998

Review of Bishop's Decision of Law in the Norway Annual Conference on the Legality of the Annual Conference Structure and Related Matters


The decision of Bishop Hans Vaxby is not affirmed and is remanded to the Norway Annual Conference for correction, and is to be returned to this body for review.

Statement of Facts

This matter is before the Judicial Council in review of episcopal decision made by the presiding bishop of the Norway Annual Conference meeting in Oslo, Norway, on June 20, 1998.

The question raised is the legality of Annual Conference structure and related matters.

The bishop's decision was:

The structure approved by the 1997 Annual Conference is not based on the constitutional amendment, 15.15, and is not in conflict with the 1992 Discipline. The decision of the 1995 Annual Conference must be seen in relation to the size and resources of the conference.

The structure and authority of Hoverdstyret (the Main Board) is in accordance with the Central Conference Book of Discipline 1976 and later editions.

We quote the presiding bishop's decision in full:

1. The new structure, approved by the Norway Annual Conference at its session on June 1997, is not based on the constitutional amendment, Para. 15.15, but upon the traditional understanding of the connectional system. No changes in the numbers or work areas of the boards were made, and all connectional relationships were kept. The Main Board ("Hovedstyret", see explanation below) is given a stronger coordinating role than in earlier Norwegian tradition, but not beyond or in conflict with the power give to the Council on Finance and Administration (Para. 608-615 of the 1996 Discipline) and the Council on Ministries (Par. 726 of the 1992 Discipline). See attached decision of the 1997 Annual Conference.

2. The decision to eliminate the Conference Board of Laity was made by the Annual Conference in 1995 and made effective in 1996. Until then Norway was the only annual conference within the Northern Europe Central Conference with such a board. Small conferences as they all are - Norway is the largest with 5200 full members in 51 local churches - simply have not the resources to keep every mandated agency going. (All annual conferences in Northern Europe also fail to meet the requirement for, e.g., a United Methodist Men organization and a joint committee on disability; and only two annual conferences out of six have a conference Board of Pensions.) Though regrettable, this is the situation. But Norway Annual Conference has with its decision not neglected the functions of a board of laity. All responsibilities were referred to the Board of Discipleship, where also the connectional relationship is taken care of. See attached decision of the 1995 Annual Conference.

3. The organization of Norway Annual Conference shows no similarities with the Kansas West Annual Conference structure described in Judicial Council Decision No. 827. See attached decision of the 1997 Annual Conference.

4. The Main Board (in Norwegian: "Hovedstyret") is a combination of the Council on Finance and Administration (Par. 608-615 of the 1996 Discipline) and the Council on Ministries (Par. 726 of the 1992 Discipline). This is not a new feature in the Norway Annual Conference as organized. It goes back to provisions given in the Central Conference edition of the 1976 Book of Discipline (Metodistkykana lara och kykoordning 1976), approved by the Central Conference in accordance with its "authority to edit and publish a central conference Discipline, which shall contain in addition to the Constitution of the Church such sections from the general Discipline of The United Methodist Church as may be pertinent to the entire Church and also such revised, adapted or new sections as shall have been enacted by the central conference concerned under the powers given by the General Conference" (Par. 537.21). Furthermore the program functions stay with the respective board, although coordinated in the Main Board, and the Main Board are accountable to the Annual Conference for all its actions.

5. Nor the Main Board, nor I have changed anything in the agenda of the 1998 Annual Conference. No violation of Par. 605 (Business of the Conference) took place. A proposal was presented concerning the use of time, which included the suggestion not to divide into working groups, but rather receive some reports en bloc and deal with matters for decision in plenary, in order to give plenary time for a study on the conference there "Where the Grace of God meets people". The conference was given opportunity to lift items from the en block parts to be dealt with in plenary instead. After a dozen items had been lifted, the proposed agenda was approved by the conference."


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

A reading of the legislation reveals several defects as cited by Ole Einar Anderson, a lay member of the Norway Annual Conference, as follows:

1. The Judicial Council has, in several recently made decisions, expressed its views on the legality of the restructuring of Annual Conferences. The General Conference approved in 1996 a constitutional change in Para. 15.15 of the Constitution. This was subsequently ratified by the Annual Conferences. But the Judicial made it clear: "There can be no restructuring by the Annual Conference pursuant to amended para.15.15 of the Constitution until such time as the General Conference adopts appropriate enabling legislation. No such law has been passed. (see Decision 815 guidelines). Further, the Judicial Council also clearly stated, "...the Annual Conference may not delegate any authority given it by the Discipline." (Decision 584). Is then the restructuring approved by the [Norway] Annual Conference in 1997 valid and legal?

2. The Annual Conference has eliminated the Conference Board of Laity. But the Discipline clearly states that there shall be a Conference Board of Laity, and the Judicial Council is even more clear: The Conference shall organize a Board of Laity (see Decision 815). Is, then, the [Norway] Annual Conference legally organized at this point?

3. According to the Constitution, Sec. 31, "...the annual conference is the basic body in the Church..." Kansas West Annual Conference has approved a plan of organization which is practically like the one the Norway Annual Conference approved in 1997 (see Decision 827). The Judicial Council mentions several problems with this plan, among other things that a personnel committee which (Hovedstyret now also is) would hire, review, evaluate, remove and manage all employed personnel of the Annual Conference. Further, that this also includes employment and supervision of the conference treasurer/director of administrative services. This "... new structure involves the unauthorized ... delegation of legislative [this new] Council." (Decision 827) Can, then, the [Norway] Annual Conference organization plan of 1997 be valid and legal?

4. Further, the Judicial Council asserts: Another main problem is that both program functions and financial functions are placed under one entity. They state: "This eliminates the checks and balance system, which provides for the separation of powers and authority required by Sec. 608 of the 1996 Discipline." Is this organization, when Hovedstyret is, at the same time managing the Conference finances and supervising management - in other words, that Hovedstyret supervises itself?

5. For this (1998) Annual Conference has Hovedstyret taken upon itself the authority to change established work plan, content and program of the Annual Conference. The Annual Conference did not get this a proposal, but had quite simply to accept an already made decision [by Hovedstyret]. This is, of course, a procedural matter. However, there is a basic underlying disciplinary question of law: Hovedstyret has taken upon itself authority to make decisions for the life and activity of the Annual Conference, i.e., Hovedstyret rules over the Annual Conference instead of the other way around. The Annual Conference has not given Hovedstyret authority make such changes as they have now done. Is this legal according to the Discipline?

This is a correct although not exhaustive list.

This is particularly so in reference to the Board of Laity which is lacking in the new structure.

In our Decision 815 which turned on the definition of an equivalent structure, we held that the word "equivalent" is synonymous with parallel, comparable, unvarying and match. We further held that the General Conference mandates the Annual Conference to name the equivalent structure which shall be so designated to fulfill the designated tasks of the previous structure, and to provide for the same function as connectional relationships in related ministries.

We further held that the changes made must maintain the connectional relationships with General Boards.

The connectional system is carried out, in large part, by the maintenance of bodies who represent the membership of the church on a local, district, conference, Jurisdictional and General Conference level.

The responsibility must be clearly defined, the structure must be named, where appropriate the local church, district, Annual Conference and jurisdiction must vote on its actions, and, where appropriate, select its members.

As to structure, an Annual Conference cannot be left in the position of asking questions like who is representing us? How were they selected? Where does the money come from? In any plan of restructuring, all of this must be laid out with great care.


The decision of Bishop Hans Vaxby is not affirmed and is remanded to the Norway Annual Conference for correction, and is to be returned to this body for review.

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