Decision Number 74
Ruling of Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam in Re- sponse to a Request from Hallam M. Richard- son, in the New York East Annual Confer- ence, May, 1950, Relating to the Legality of Lay Members Holding a Sepa- rate Business Session at the Annual Conference
A business session of the lay delegates to an Annual Conference would be illegal if not called for the purpose of electing lay delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
Statement of Facts
At the Session of the New York East Annual Conference, held in Hansen Place-Central Church of Brooklyn, May 17-21, 1950, when the Presiding Bishop, G. Bromley Oxnam, took the Chair to call the Conference to order for the afternoon session, a request was sent forward asking the Bishop to announce a special meeting of the lay members of the Conference at 2:30 P.m. of the same day. The Bishop advised the Conference of the request but stated that he could not make such announcement since the Conference itself was then in session and it appeared to him improper for lay members of the Conference to be called to attend another meeting at the time the Conference was in session.
In a subsequent session of the Conference, Hallam M. Richardson, a lay member, presented to the presiding Bishop the following request for a ruling:
"Is it in accordance with the Methodist Discipline and the rules of our Conference for Lay Delegates to assemble for a business session, either at some hour when the Conference is in recess or while the Conference is in session?"
Ruling of the Bishop
The Bishop made his ruling as follows:
"It is illegal for Lay Members of an Annual Conference to meet for a business session either at some hour when the Conference is in recess or while the Conference is in session."
This ruling has been properly certified to the Judicial Council and is now regularly before the Council for review.
The Constitution of The Methodist Church in Paragraphs 22-25 of the Discipline sets out the constitutional powers of the Annual Conference. Paragraph 22 states that it is the "basic body in the Church," and that there are reserved to it certain voting rights and "such other rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution."
In the same Paragraph (Paragraph 22) appears the following constitutional provision:
"It shall discharge such duties and exercise such powers as the General Conference under the Constitution may determine."
This seems to restrict the Constitutional powers of the Annual Conference to those powers specifically enumerated in Paragraphs 22-25 in the Constitution. This interpretation is implemented by the following provision of the Constitution:
Division Two, Section I, Article IV (Paragraph 8 of the Discipline). "The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctly connectional, and in the exercise of said powers shall have authority as follows: . . .
"3. To define and fix the powers and duties of Annual Conferences, . . ."
The Constitutional provisions relating to the powers of Annual Conferences (Paragraphs 22-25) do not specifically authorize Annual Conferences to order or hold separate meetings either of its ministerial or of its lay delegates.
The General Conference has granted to the Annual Conference (Paragraph 631) power to make rules to govern its own procedure, "provided that no Annual Conference shall make any rule contrary to the Constitution or to the powers granted it by the General Conference." We believe, however, this would not authorize the Annual Conference to order or hold a separate meeting of its lay delegates or of its ministerial delegates without specific authority from the General Conference.
The General Conference, in Paragraph 646, has authorized the Annual Conference to order a separate meeting of its ministerial delegates "to consider questions relating to matters of ordination character, and Conference relations." The constitutionality of this provision has been sustained by the Judicial Council. (See Decision 42, In Re: Executive Sessions of Annual Conference Excluding Lay Members; Constitutionality of Paragraph 646, Discipline 1944, H. R. Van Deusen and W. G. Henry dissenting.)
The General Conference (Paragraph 502, Section 2) has conferred upon the Annual Conference the right to have separate meetings of the ministerial and lay members for the purpose of electing delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
Apparently these two Paragraphs (Paragraph 646 and Paragraph 502) are the only two instances in which the General Conference has authorized the Annual Conference to hold separate meetings of its ministerial or of its lay delegates. The authority conferred under these two Paragraphs has its basis in the Constitution (Paragraph 8, Section 3).
The question submitted to Bishop Oxnam for ruling reads as follows:
"Is it in accordance with the Methodist Discipline and the rules of our own Conference for lay delegates to assemble for a business session, either at some hour when the Conference is in recess or while the Conference is in session?"
Since the question of electing delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences was not before the New York East Annual Conference in May 1950, the above question could not be interpreted as asking for a ruling on the validity of Paragraph 502 above referred to. It must be construed as relating to some other proposed meeting of the lay members of the Annual Conference. Since the General Conference has not authorized the Annual Conference to hold or authorize separate meetings of its lay delegates except as provided in Paragraph 502, no such meeting can legally be held.
Accordingly the ruling of Bishop Oxnam is affirmed.