Decision Number 412
Ruling of Bishop James M. Ault in the Wyoming Annual Conference on the Validity of an Action by a District Committee on the Ministry Dealing with a Request for the Renewal of a License to Preach
The action of the Scranton District Committee on the Ministry, Wyoming Annual Conference, was within the discretionary powers stated in Paragraph 320 of the Discipline and, therefore, was not discriminatory.
The ruling of Bishop James M. Ault is affirmed.
Statement of Facts
During the session of the Wyoming Annual Conference in Scranton, Pennsylvania, June 8, 1975 a request to Bishop James M. Ault was made in writing for a ruling "on the action of the Scanton District Committee on the Ministry of 25 Feb., 1974, pertaining to the academic requirement or requirement of the Master of Divinity degree for the granting of the license to preach for Mr. Robert Lee Cooper to determine if this ruling of the Scranton District Committee was discriminatory and in violation of the Discipline."
Bishop James M. Ault, resident bishop of the Philadelphia Area, ruled:
"The Scranton District Committee on the Ministry did not act in a discriminatory manner with respect to the request of Robert Lee Cooper that his license to preach be renewed.
"The Book of Discipline (1972) in Paragraph 320.3 grants 'discretion' to a District Committee on the Ministry regarding the reinstatement of a license to preach and the Scranton District Committee was so guided in setting the educational requirement."
On January 29, 1976, Bishop James M. Ault submitted to the Judicial Council a report of a decision of law. Briefs have been received from the Scranton District Committee on the Ministry, Bishop James M. Ault and Robert Lee Cooper. Material also was received from the Board of the Ministry of the Wyoming Annual Conference. Hearings were held in Portland, Oregon attended by Mr. Cooper, Bishop Ault, and Rev. Robert E. Germond, Chairman of the Wyoming Conference Board of the Ministry.
Mr. Cooper received his B.S. degree from Union College in 1971. From the fall of 1969 through April 8, 1975, Mr. Cooper attended Drew University. He was certified on April 2, 1975 as completing the academic requirements for the Master of Divinity degree, and was graduated on May 24, 1975.
Robert Lee Cooper held a license to preach from 1966 to June 1972, when he was voted a probationary member of the Wyoming Annual Conference and ordained Deacon. One year later, June 1973, the Wyoming Annual Conference, on recommendation of the Board of the Ministry, discontinued his probationary membership and instructed Mr. Cooper to surrender his credentials to the Scranton District Superintendent. Mr. Cooper's discontinued probationary relationship caused his license to preach to lapse.
Seeking reinstatement of a license to preach, Mr. Cooper was recommended for license to preach by the Charge Conference of the Dunmore United Methodist Church on January 31, 1974. On February 2, 1974 he appeared before the Scranton District Committee on the Ministry, requesting a license to preach. The District Committee on the Ministry meeting February 25, 1974, voted that, on completion of the Master of Divinity program at Drew University School of Theology, the license to preach be renewed for Mr. Cooper. On April 24, 1975 the Scranton District Committee on the Ministry having received this certification from Drew University issued a license to preach to Mr. Robert Lee Cooper.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1512 of the Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
Mr. Cooper's request for a license to preach was in fact a request for the reinstatement of a lapsed license. With his discontinuance as a probationary member of the Wyoming Annual Conference, Mr. Cooper was returned to the status of a lay person.
At this point there were two ways whereby Mr. Cooper might enter once again the road toward "ordained ministry and Conference Membership": Paragraph 373"Readmission to Probationary Membership" and Paragraph 320 "Renewal of License to Preach."
Mr. Cooper elected to make a request to the Scranton District Committee on the Ministry for a renewal of a license to preach. The Committee, using its discretionary power, requested Mr. Cooper to complete the requirements for the Master of Divinity degree.
Does a District Committee on the Ministry have the Disciplinary power to make such discretionary judgment?
Paragraph 320.3 states:
"When a license to preach has lapsed, it may be reinstated only at the discretion of the District Committee on the Ministry, or the Board of the Ministry, when the candidate has completed satisfactorily the current studies for license to preach." (emphasis added)
Certainly, a District Committee on the Ministry has authority to require for a license to preach educational qualifications other than those authorized by the Discipline. In the instant case Mr. Cooper had met the educational requirements.
However, a District Committee on the Ministry is required by the Discipline to weigh other factors in making its decision for the reinstatement of a lapsed license preach.
The action of the Scranton District Committee on the Ministry was a discretionary judgment in keeping with power given to the committee.
The action of the Scranton District Committee on the Ministry, Wyoming Annual Conference, was within the discretionary powers stated in Paragraph 320 of the Discipline, and, therefore, was not discriminatory.
The ruling of Bishop James M. Ault is affirmed.
The Judicial Council is required to "pass upon and affirm, modify or reverse" decisions of law made by bishops. (Discipline Paragraphs 61.3 and 1512) To the extent that such decision is affirmed by the Judicial Council, it becomes the law of the Church. Discipline Paragraph 1512.
The basic question of law raised by the episcopal decision at hand is: whatare the rights of a minister whose probationary membership has been discontinued under authority of Discipline Paragraph 369?
I dissent from the majority opinion for the reason that affirming the bishop's decision is too narrow a declaration of law to protect the rights of a probationary member of an Annual Conference. I believe the applicable law required the Judicial Council to reverse or modify the bishop's decision in this instance.
The first formal step toward the ministry is to qualify for a license to preach, which required the candidate to meet nine specific conditions (Paragraph 318) and examination by a district Committee on the Ministry or (Conference) Board of the Ministry (Paragraph 319). Having met these conditions and a license is issued, such license to preach is valid for one year and may be renewed by the district Committee on the Ministry or Board of the Ministry on recommendation of the Charge Conference and "on evidence that the candidate's gifts, graces and fruits continue to be satisfactory" and the candidate is making satisfactory progress. Paragraphs 320 and 665.19.
The provisions of Paragraphs 318, 320 and 665.19 clearly give concurrent jurisdiction to the district Committee on the Ministry and (Conference) Board of the Ministry to qualify and license persons to preach prior to their qualifying for Annual Conference relation as Lay Pastor, Associate Member, Probationary Member or ministers in full connection. Paragraph 665.20 provides that the district Committee on the Ministry "shall recommend to the Board of the Ministry of the Annual Conference suitable candidates for acceptance or continuance as lay pastors, for conference membership and for restoration of credentials." (emphasis added)
At the point that the district Committee on the Ministry recommends to the Board of the Ministry, its jurisdiction is advisory and administrative, and is not authoritative as in granting a license to preach under Paragraphs 318 and 320.
When a district Committee on the Ministry recommends a candidate for conference membership, as in the case of probationary member, to the Board of the Ministry the Annual Conference obtains jurisdiction over such probationary members," and "continuance shall be equivalent to the renewal of their license to preach." Paragraph 325 (emphasis added) See also Paragraphs 665.8; 665.10 and 665.11.
In the instant case, the person was licensed to preach in 1966, having met the conditions and requirements of Paragraph 306 (1964 Discipline), and the license was renewed annually until 1972 when he was elected by the Annual Conference to probationary membership on recommendation of the district Committee on the Ministry and (Conference) Board of the Ministry. Continuation as probationary member was subject to the investigation and judgment of the Board of the Ministry as to extension of time for completing ministerial studies. Paragraph 329. The Board of the Ministry did not extend time to complete his studies, but instead, after one year, recommended discontinuance of probationary membership as authorized in Paragraph 369 and the Annual Conference voted such discontinuance and ordered surrender of his license and deacon orders.
The person affected by this action remained under the jurisdiction of the Annual Conference and Board of the Ministry and was entitled to the provisions and procedures of Paragraph 373 for re-admission to probationary membership and restoration of credentials.
We strongly disagree that discontinuance of probationary membership lapsed his license, thrusting him back to renewal procedures under Paragraph 320 and subject to the discretionary authority of the district Committee on the Ministry. Rather we contend that by discontinuing probationary membership his license to preach and ministerial credentials were lifted and held in suspense, subject to his request for readmission, the required review, recommendations and action on reinstatement and restoration of his credentials as provided in Paragraph 373.
We hold the view that the district Committee on the Ministry and Bishop erred in treating the request for license to preach as a renewal of license bringing his request under the jurisdiction of the Committee under Paragraph 320. Rather the mandate of Paragraph 665.20 should have been followed and the request for license treated as a request for recommendation for restoration of credentials. The function and role of the district Committee on the Ministry was to make advisory recommendation to the Board of the Ministry, and not to exercise its discretionary authority under Paragraph 320.3.
To the extent that subsequent to the Bishop's decision the applicant has now completed the academic work imposed by the district Committee on the Ministry and has been granted a license to preach, the Board of the Ministry in justice should treat this as partial review as required by Paragraph 373 preliminary to recommendation and vote by the Annual Conference of reinstatement to probationary membership.
In Decision 405 the Judicial Council held the Board of the Ministry is required to make recommendations, positive or negative, in matters of ministerial classification; and that failing to make such recommendations, the Annual Conference has the right to take action.
THEODORE M. BERRY