Decision Number 690
Right of Clergy Session to Vote on all Clergy Matters Regardless of Board of Ordained Ministry Recommendation.
The clergy session of an Annual Conference has the right to vote on all matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of its ministerial members and is not limited to those matters reported or recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry. Any action taken must conform to disciplinary requirements.
Statement of Facts
In its 1993 session, the Louisville Conference petitioned the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision in answer to the following question:
Under the provisions of the current Book of Discipline are the elders in full connection in an Annual Conference prohibited from exercising their authority under paragraph 36, 422, and 423 to meet in executive session to decide all matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy; this responsibility not to be limited by the recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry, notwithstanding provisions of Chapter 3 which grant to the Board of Ordained Ministry the right of recommendation?
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2616 of the 1992 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The Constitution, in Par. 36, guarantees to the Annual Conference "the right to vote on ... all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministers, and on the ordination of ministers. . . ."
It should be noted that, despite a common misunderstanding, the Constitution does not guarantee this voting right to clergy members in full connection. It is guaranteed to the Annual Conference, with the limitation that lay members may not vote on those ministerial matters. The obvious assumption is that clergy members are the ones who may vote. Clergy members are not defined by Constitution, but by the General Conference. (Pars. 35, 702) The General Conference decided to limit the vote on matters of character, ordination, and conference relations of clergy to clergy members in full connection. (Par. 705.6) The Constitution does not forbid giving that right to anyone who is defined by the General Conference as a clergy member of the Annual Conference.
So the right of the ordained clergy in full connection to act "for and on behalf of the Annual Conference" in the clergy session on all ministerial matters (Par. 705.6) is constitutional in the sense that it is not contrary to the Constitution, but neither is it required by the Constitution. If it chose, the General Conference might define clergy membership, voting rights, and conference sessions for clergy matters in other ways which would also meet the requirements of the Constitution.
The authority of the clergy session to consider ministerial matters is further defined in Pars. 422 and 423, which must be read in light of Par. 705.6. As the Judicial Council stated in Decision 686, "the wording of Par. 705.6 makes it clear that the newly-defined clergy session is the successor to what was once called executive session."
Included in Par. 423 is the provision that the right of members in full connection to vote on all matters of ordination, character, and conference relations "shall not be limited by the recommendation or lack of recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry." Any ministerial matter may be given attention, whether introduced by the Board of Ordained Ministry or from the floor by a voting member of the clergy session.
Even so, the clergy session may not act in violation of the Discipline. For example, no candidate may be admitted or ordained who has not met all the requirements. The clergy session may discuss any candidate and "has the right to receive all pertinent information" [Par. 733.2(1)]; but once it has been determined that a candidate has not met all requirements, the clergy session may not vote to admit or ordain. The bishop has both the authority and the responsibility to rule out of order any motion which would have that effect. (See Decisions 648, 650, 678.)
If a candidate has met all the requirements, the clergy session is free to accept or reject that candidate as it chooses, regardless of Board of Ordained Ministry recommendation or lack thereof. (Paradoxically, one requirement for virtually any change of clergy relationship is recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry, a requirement which is made essentially meaningless by the override authority given the Annual Conference in Par. 423.)
The clergy session is not limited to those matters brought before it by the Board of Ordained Ministry. Clergy members in full connection may consider all clergy business matters, with or without Board of Ordained Ministry recommendation. They may not vote to admit or ordain any candidate who has not met all the disciplinary requirements.