Category Archive: General Conference 2012

Nov 27 2012

UMR » General Conference 2012: Judicial Council needs a change of worldview

Original post at http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2012/11/27/judicial-council-needs-a-change-of-worldview/


By Joe Whittemore, Special Contributor…

A few hours before the adjournment of the 2012 General Conference, the highly controversial Decision No. 1210 issued by the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church addressed and overturned restructure Plan UMC, which had been approved by a 59.62 percent vote of the General Conference. This hasty council decision seemed more interested in protecting segments of the institution than finding ways to support the work of the legislative body of the United Methodist Church.

Joe Whittemore

On Oct. 28, the Judicial Council issued Decision No. 1226 declaring another 2012 General Conference action—that of ending guaranteed appointments for ordained elders—to be unconstitutional. This legislation was overwhelmingly approved by General Conference on the consent calendar.

Then on Nov. 10, Decision No. 1230 was issued which overturned the actions of the South Central Jurisdiction committee on episcopacy and the entire jurisdictional conference to involuntarily retire a bishop. Those actions were supported by votes of over 80 percent of the two bodies. There is little question the Judicial Council could have legitimately supported the actions of the jurisdiction, but again individual members chose to legislate over the representatives of church membership.

In contrast, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts got it right in his recent decision when he wrote, “. . . precedent is that ‘every reasonable construction’ of a law passed by Congress must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality.” The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church declared in a broad and sweeping decision that Plan UMC was unsalvageable and unconstitutional. Included were portions of the legislation that had absolutely no constitutional issues. The council ruled “. . . the Plan [is] . . . constitutionally unsalvageable,” but many find it difficult to believe that assertion. Some knowledgeable United Methodists hold that Plan UMC in its entirety is constitutional.

Several years ago, the council helped clear up similar matters when the General Council on Ministries was legislated. In the case of Plan UMC the council talked a good game about trying to save the legislation but the final decision was in fact inappropriate judicial activism.

Thwarted compromise

Some very brief background may be helpful. After spending several hundred thousand dollars for outside consultants to provide a report titled “A Call to Action,” which outlined changes needed for our church, the Council of Bishops (COB) seized the findings, helped tweak them and pressured the Connectional Table to present to General Conference hastily drawn restructure legislation that would have placed the COB in charge of just about everything. This Interim Operations Team (IOT) plan gave the bishops power to change budgets authorized and approved by General Conference, virtual control of a small group that was to take the place of ALL general agencies (including the General Council on Finance and Administration), and the ability to determine not only the programs of the church but how those programs would be implemented. Forty years of General Conference actions (mandates) would have been deleted in their entirety from the Book of Discipline and the COB would have been in position to dominate the general church operations. Many familiar with the workings of the general church saw serious flaws in the IOT plan and it was virtually dead on arrival when General Conference convened. Please understand that when the term COB is used, there were minority voices of opposition in that body.

Some capable participants in the Call to Action work prepared alternative restructure legislation, including Plan UMC, which was ultimately approved by a 60 percent vote of General Conference. This action represented comprehensive legislation that was a year in the making and contained significant compromise provisions from more than one plan. Some of the IOT plan provisions were likely unconstitutional but Plan UMC revised those provisions. There is no question that Plan UMC contained several major revisions (i.e., significant improvements) to the way our church has been operating over the past decades.

The key Judicial Council ruling was that “oversight,” all oversight of any kind, was reserved by our constitution as the sole domain of the bishops. Factually, that’s about it. No one and no group can ever be given authority of oversight other than our episcopal leaders. One bishop recently wrote “Like it or not, our constitution gives bishops the duty of oversight.” If such absolute power is in the hands of the bishops, our constitution runs counter to the best leadership principles of this day. For it to be claimed that our bishops are given the exclusive right to oversight of the whole church has the ring of paranoid protectionism and permanent privilege.

In addition to being unhealthy, this notion is incomprehensible for operations as vast as our church. It is not to be overlooked that multiple provisions of the Book of Discipline authorize oversight to leaders and entities other than the bishops.

The authority to make final decisions grants significant power to the decision maker(s). As in personal interpretation of Scriptures a final decision of the Judicial Council does not have to be right in order to be “final.” Judge Roberts could have very easily succumbed to the practice of imposition but he rose above his power and looked for ways to draw from and support the legislative process. This type of leadership is even more critical in our denomination. In the UMC the population (membership) has no vote in establishing leadership and authority. This makes the legislative process extremely critical in the assigning of responsibility.

Protecting the past

The opening premise of Judicial Council thinking in its recent unconstitutionality ruling of General Conference action to eliminate guaranteed appointments was that, “Security of appointment has long been a part of the tradition of The United Methodist Church.” In other words, the Judicial Council is not going to allow General Conference to change the way we have been doing things. That kind of culture within our judicial system must change.

Our Judicial Council has become the protectionist body for episcopal power and holding on to the past in our church. How out of step with the prevailing thought of our membership! Our denomination is in serious danger. We are dying in the U.S., where our financial base is located. Although all of us bear some responsibility, we arrived at this point under the control and authority of a system which is dominated by the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council. The legislative bodies that represent the membership of our church have become secondary and in some cases irrelevant, subject to the influence and whims of the bishops undergirded by decisions of the judicial system. It is very important to remember that the COB presents nominees for the nine-member Judicial Council. To win a nomination or re-nomination to the Judicial Council, a person must be in good standing with the COB. While the Judicial Council is elected by vote of the General Conference, there remains at least the appearance of a serious conflict of interest in the nominations process. Whether there’s a conflict of interest or not, the worldview of the Judicial Council is for blocking change rather than, to paraphrase Judge Roberts, taking every reasonable construction of provisions passed by the General Conference to save the legislation from unconstitutionality.

The conciliatory tone of Judge Roberts’ work is far from the judgmental and unnecessary rhetoric of Decision 1210 illustrated in their “tortured course” of legislation tirade and the proclamations of “unsalvageable.” We need a council that will invest time and energy in looking to the future and finding ways to listen to the voice of our constituency. Our court of last resort has no right or authority to object to tough decisions being made through compromise of the majority against the will of the minority.

General Conference of 2012 made tough decisions after withstanding all kinds of maneuvering, groaning, amendments and alternatives. That process cannot be the basis of overturning legislation. The Judicial Council must always consider serious deviations from the constitution, but it cannot be the place of last resort to overcome the majority or squelch new ideas. Rather, it must objectively look for ways to support change. If we are to survive and have a measure of vitality, the prophetic worldview of our church, including that of the Judicial Council, must move to allowing the majority permission to govern rather than holding fast to protectionism.

Mr. Whittemore was a North Georgia Conference lay delegate to the last six General Conferences. He has been a conference lay leader and has served as a member of the Connectional Table and board member of the General Board of Global Ministries.

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
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Oct 29 2012

UMR » General Conference 2012: Judicial Council upholds guaranteed appointment for clergy

Original post at http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2012/10/29/judicial-council-upholds-guaranteed-appointment-for-clergy/


The UMC’s Judicial Council has struck down as unconstitutional legislation passed at General Conference 2012 that would have ended guaranteed appointment for clergy. We’ll have coverage of this later, quoting those involved in the case. For now, here’s the decision, which has just been officially released this morning:

JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

DECISION NO. 1226

 

IN RE: Request for a Declaratory Judgment from the General Conference for a declaratory Decision as to the Constitutionality of legislation Approved as Calendar Item 355 Regarding Guaranteed Appointments.

 

DIGEST

Security of appointment has long been a part of the tradition of The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies. Abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan for our itinerant superintendency. Fair process procedures, trials and appeals are integral parts of the privilege of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of appeal and is an absolute right which cannot be eradicated by legislation. The amendments to ¶337, as contained in Calendar Item 355, are unconstitutional and violate the third and fourth restrictive rules of the Constitution. The original ¶377 of the Discipline is restored and maintained and the changes made thereto at 2012 General Conference are null, void and of no effect. The amendments to ¶321, as contained in Calendar Items 352, is also declared repugnant to the constitution and hence, unconstitutional. The original ¶321 of the Discipline is restored and maintained and the changes made thereto by the 2012 general Conference are null, void, and of no effect.  Calendar Item 358, the new transitional leave ¶354, is declared unconstitutional and Calendar Item 359, which removed the language of a transitional leave from ¶ 354 of the Discipline, is also declared unconstitutional. The current language for a transitional leave as provided for in ¶354 is restored and maintained. 

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The records of the 2012 General Conference reflect that Petition Number: 20303-MH ¶337-G  deleted language that refers to security of appointment and added language that describes next steps if an elder or associate member is not continued under appointment. The Petition, Calendar Item 355, was amended and adopted by the Legislative Committee on Ministry and Higher Education. Calendar Item 335, as amended and adopted, was approved by the 2012 General Conference on May 5, 2012. 

 

The 2012 Session of the General Conference requested a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council regarding the constitutionality of the approved legislation (Calendar Item 355).

 

Calendar item amended ¶337 of the Book of Discipline of 2008 to read as follows:

Paragraph 337:

“1.       Ordained elders and persons who have been granted a license for pastoral ministry and who have been approved by vote of the clergy members in full connection may be appointed to local churches. All clergy members and licensed local pastors to be appointed shall assume a lifestyle consistent with Christian teaching as set forth in the Social Principles.

 

2.         Elders and deacons, associate members, provisional members, and persons licensed for pastoral ministry may be appointed to ministry settings that extend the ministry of The United Methodist Church and the witness and service of Christ’s love and justice in the world. They shall be given the same moral support by the annual conference as are persons in appointments to pastoral charges. Their effectiveness shall be evaluated in the context of the specific setting in which their ministry is performed. Such ministry settings shall include teaching, pastoral care and counseling, chaplaincy, campus ministry, social services, and other ministries so recognized by the conference Board of Ordained Ministry and approved by the bishop.

a)         Full connection and provisional member elders, associate members, and persons licensed for pastoral ministry may be appointed to Extension Ministries serving in ministries of pastoral care in specialized settings. See ¶¶ 326, 343-344 for specific information about Extension Ministries.

 

b) Deacons in provisional membership and full connection may be appointed to appointments beyond the local church that extend the witness and service of Christ’s love and justice in a ministry to both the community and the church. This ministry connects community and church and equips all Christians to fulfill their own calls to Christian service. See ¶¶ 326, 328, 329, 331 for specific information about these ministries.

            c)         All persons in such appointments shall:

(1) be appointed to a setting that provides an appropriate support and accountability structure;

(2) continue to be accountable to the annual conference for the practice of their ministry;

(3) provide an annual report, including a narrative of their ministry, evidence of continuing education, and evidence of an annual evaluation in their setting;

(4) maintain a relationship with a charge conference.

 

3.         In the case that an elder or associate member in good standing is not continued under appointment one of the following steps shall be taken:

            a)         If the elder is not continued because a missional appointment is not available, then the bishop shall recommend the elder to the Board of Ordained Ministry for transitional leave (¶354).

            b)         If the elder is not continued because of ineffectiveness then the bishop shall initiate an administrative process in 361 at least 90 days prior to the annual conference.

 

4.         a)         Each annual conference shall quadrennially name a task force consisting of: four members named by the Conference Lay leader; at least two clergy members from the Board of Ordained Ministry nominated by the Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry and elected by the clergy session; a superintendent named by the Bishop; and the Bishop. The task force shall meet annually to develop a list of criteria to guide the Cabinet and Bishop as they make missional appointments.

            b)         The Cabinet shall report the following information annually to the Board of ordained Ministry Executive Committee: 1) those elders, provisional elders and associate members who have not received a full-time missional appointment  and the rationale; 2) those elders, provisional elders and associate members who have not received an appointment for reasons of ineffectiveness and the steps which have been taken in the complaint process; 3) statistics by age, ethnicity and gender pf elders who have not received a full-time missional appointment; 4) learnings that have been gleaned as appointment-making is carried out in a new way. This data will also become part of the agenda of the Committee on the Episcopacy at the conference and jurisdictional level. This data will also become part of the evaluation of bishops by the Committee on the Episcopacy at the conference and jurisdictional levels.”  

 

From the records of the 2012 General Conference, as culled from page 2760 of the Daily Christian Advocate (DCA),  May 5, 2012,  Frederick K. Brewington made the motion to seek a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council and asked the specific question “Does Calendar Item 355 of the 2010 (sic) General Conference removing guaranteed appointments to clergy violate either the third restrictive rule of the constitution under paragraph 19 by setting up a process that can do away with the authority of the episcopacy in our denomination and/or the fourth restrictive rule of the constitution, which is paragraph 20, by taking away a right of clergy without a hearing, trial, or resort to any form of appeal and/or in violation of historical precedence to the contrary? “

 

The motion received more than the required 20% vote of the delegates of the 2012 General Conference (Yes, 397; No, 341).

 

An oral hearing was held on October 24, 2012, in Elk Grove, Illinois. The Council of Bishops filed a brief and Bishop Alfred Wesley Gwinn, Jr. appeared for the Council of Bishops. Frederick K. Brewington and John P. Feagins filed briefs and appeared.   Lonnie D. Brooks and Jimmie R. Tatum filed briefs but did not appear.

 

JURISDICTION

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶2609.1 of the Discipline.

 

 

 

ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE

¶16.5 of the Discipline gives to the General Conference the power “To define and fix powers, duties and privileges of the episcopacy….”  ¶16.16 of the Discipline gives to the General Conference the power “To enact such other legislation as may be necessary, subject to the limitations and restrictions of the Constitution of the Church”. Therefore, when the 2012 General Conference adopted Calendar Item 355, they were exercising their powers under these provisions of the Constitution.

 

In the case before us, we are being asked to determine whether the removal of security of appointments violate the third and fourth restrictive rules of the Constitution.

 

We observed that the specific question being asked the Judicial Council contains the phrase “guaranteed appointments”. This phrase is not found in the Discipline nor is it found in the revised ¶337. However, “guaranteed appointments” is a phrase frequently used by various speakers and writers (see the Report of the 2009-2012 Study of Ministry Commission, ADCA pgs. 1383-94, especially pg. 1389). This has become a common phrase to describe security of appointment.

 

Though the request for this Judicial Council decision relates specifically to Calendar Item 355 that changed ¶337 in the Discipline, we note that changes to ¶337 resulted in numerous other changes to other paragraphs in the Discipline. These other paragraphs were not cited in the request for the declaratory judgment.

 

Changes in ¶337 (Calendar Item 355) resulted from recommendations submitted by the Study of Ministry Commission. Other recommendations from this Commission that were approved by the 2012 General Conference included Calendar Item 359 (deletion of transitional leave from ¶354, which had allowed for clergy to request transitional leave under only a very limited provision-transitioning from an extension ministry appointment to another appointment for a period lasting a maximum of 12 months); Calendar Item 358 (establishing a new transitional leave, new ¶354, which  includes a new provision that allows  for transitional leave to be at the initiation of the bishop; allows transitional leave to be granted for reason other than not being appointed;  lasting up to a maximum of 24 months; and, includes a new subdivision that states “that clergy on transitional leave of absence shall have no claim on conference funds”); Calendar Item 356 (allowing for an appointment to less than full time service, ¶338); and, Calendar Items 352 (eliminating security of appointment for associate members). Though relating to or growing out of the change to ¶337, none of these Calendar items were included in the request for constitutional review. However, we note that the parties in their briefs acknowledged that these Calendar Items were linked to the issue. Hence, they were addressed in the respective briefs.

 

The Legislative Committee on Ministry and Higher Education also considered the elimination of ¶334 (Petition 20299, page 1423 ADCA). ¶334 contains similar language that was deleted in ¶337. The legislative committee rejected this petition, thus retaining the current disciplinary language in respect of security of appointment.

 

 The action of the 2012 General Conference in approving Calendar Item ¶355 changed ¶337 by the deletion of ¶337.1, the requirement that all elders in good standing shall be continued under appointment.  The current ¶337.1, which was deleted, reads as follows:

“All elders in full connection who are in good standing in an annual conference shall be continued under appointment by the bishop unless they are granted a sabbatical leave, an incapacity leave (¶357), family leave, leave of absence, retirement, or have failed to meet the requirements for continued eligibility (¶334.2,3), provided that if the elder is appointed to serve in an affiliated relationship in a missionary conference (¶586.4.b) and that appointment is terminated by the bishop who presides in the missionary conference, than the responsibility for meeting this obligation rests with the bishop of the conference of which the elder is a member.”

 

Similar language in ¶334.1, which was retained, reads as follows:

“……..Every effective elder in full connection who is in good standing shall be continued under appointment by the bishop provided that if the elder is appointed to serve in an affiliated relationship in a missionary conference (¶586) and that appointment is terminated by the bishop who presides in the missionary conference, than the responsibility for meeting this obligation rests with the bishop of the conference of which the elder is a member.”

 

When reviewing legislation for constitutionality, we defer to the legislative authority of the General Conference. In reviewing acts of the General Conference for constitutionality, our first inclination is to save legislation, if at all possible, and not destroy it. See Decision 1210.

 

The third and fourth Restrictive Rules state as follows:

 

¶19. Article III  – “The General Conference shall not change or alter any part or rule of our government so as to do away with episcopacy or destroy the plan of our itinerant general superintendency.

 

¶20. Article IV – The General Conference shall not do away with the privileges of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of an appeal; neither shall it do away with the privileges of our members of right to trial before the church, or by a committee, and of an appeal.  

 

Security of appointment has long been a part of the tradition of the United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies. Security of appointment for clergy in good standing was first articulated by the 1956 General Conference with the addition of ¶432.9:

“Every traveling preacher, unless retired, supernumerary, on sabbatical leave, or under arrest of character, must receive an appointment.”

 

This provision remained unchanged and untouched over the years and was retained in 1968 but rewritten as a result of the merger of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethern Church. The rewritten language appeared in ¶316 and ¶332 of the 1968 Book of Discipline:

¶316. All ministerial members who are in good standing in an Annual Conference shall receive annually appointment by the bishop unless they are granted a sabbatical leave or a disability leave or in the supernumerary or superannuate relation.

¶332. ….Every effective member in full connection who is in good standing in an Annual Conference shall receive an annual appointment by the bishop.

 

This language remained consistent and in effect over the next 28 years, undergoing no radical or substantive changes other than excluding those who were formerly called “traveling preachers on trial”, minor grammatical change  and moving it from one paragraph to another. In 1996 it was revised and removed to ¶328.1 and ¶325.

¶328.1 All elders in full connection who are in good standing in an annual conference shall be continued under appointment by the bishop unless they are granted a sabbatical leave, a disability leave, family leave, a leave of absence, retirement, or have failed to meet the requirements for continued eligibility (325.2).12

¶325.1 ….Every effective elder in full connection who is in good standing shall be continued under appointment by the bishop.

 

Over the next 16 years, the language has again remained consistent and unchanged, except for the addition of provisions relating to appointments in a missionary conference, ¶337.1 of the 2004 Book of Discipline.

 

In several cases, the Judicial Council has upheld and affirmed security of appointment as a characteristic of the United Methodist Church plan for itinerant general superintendency. In Decision 380 the Judicial Council held:

 

“There is no directly stated Constitutional right to an appointment. However, it is implicit in Constitutional provisions such as Restrictive Rule III (Par.17) which forbids the General Conference to destroy the plan of our itinerant general superintendency and Paragraph 59 which authorizes the bishops to appoint ministers to charges. It becomes explicit as an absolute right clearly set forth in Paragraphs 308.3, 316 and 391.10, disciplinary provisions which have long been a part of the tradition of the predecessor bodies of the United Methodist Church.” See Decision 380. Also see Decisions 459, 462 and 492.

 

Action of the 2012 General Conference in removing security of appointment would have the effect of overturning our historic security of appointment.

 

In Decision 398, the Judicial Council stated that “Of course, the position is correct that no General Conference or Annual Conference or any other body may take any action that would change or alter the government of The United Methodist Church in such a fashion as to destroy the plan of the itinerant General superintendency.”

 

¶337, as amended, is in conflict with ¶334, which was not amended by the 2012 General Conference and maintains security of appointment. Calendar Item 355 deleted the sentence…. “All elders in full connection who are in good standing in the annual conference shall be continued under appointment……..” Similar sentence in ¶334 was retained. Petition 20299 which had proposed to delete it was rejected by the legislative committee on Ministry and Higher Education. ¶337 as amended is in direct conflict with ¶334 and cannot be reconciled with ¶334. There is no indication that the 2012 General Conference intended to repeal ¶334. ¶334 remained unchanged.   

 

Also, Calendar Item 352, which amended ¶321 by removing security of appointment for associate members, is also in direct conflict with ¶334. ¶¶321 and ¶337, as amended, cannot coexist with ¶334 as they are incompatible. Therefore, the amendments to ¶321 and ¶337, as contained in Calendar Items 352 and 355, must be declared unconstitutional. 

 

The fourth Restrictive Rule state as follows:

¶20. Article IV – The General Conference shall not do away with the privileges of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of an appeal; neither shall it do away with the privileges of our members of right to trial before the church, or by a committee, and of an appeal. 

 

The right to trial and appeal by our clergy members is an absolute right that has been expressed and upheld repeatedly by the Judicial Council. The right to appeal has been extended to instances where a clergy member has not been brought up on charges yet still has been determined to be unappointable or otherwise unacceptable to be appointed. Decision 351 is worth noting in this respect:

 

“Equally historic is the method for protecting the rights of ministers who are not under charges, against whom no formal accusations have been brought, and therefore for whom no trial is properly in order. This method has used long-accepted practices and procedures to determine the acceptability of a person for appointment to a parish in the church”.

 

We have found no instance in which there have been provisions for not appointing clergy involuntarily to ministerial settings other than chargeable offenses or some form of unacceptability for appointment.

 

In Decision 351 the Judicial Council stated “The United Methodist Church has a heritage of concern with the rights of persons. That concern has repeatedly made provision for the protection of the rights of its members and of its ministers.”

 

Calendar Item 358, the new ¶354, establishes a new transitional leave which allows for transitional leave to be at the initiation of the bishop rather than being restricted to the clergy. It also allows clergy to be refused an appointment for reasons other than those related to some form of ineffectiveness, etc. The leave can last up to a maximum period of 24 months, without the clergy having any claim on conference funds.

 

The right given to the bishop in this new provision to initiate and place provisional, associate and full members in good standing on transitional leave undermines the right to trial and appeal.

 

Fair process procedures, trials and appeals are integral parts of the privilege of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of appeal.  In the instance of where a member is not under any formal trial, yet the annual conference is seeking to appoint said member to a status other than ministry appointment, certain safeguards and requirements have to be ensured. These include:

i)                    That there is a through process of investigation, petition and hearing…; and,

ii)                  The elder must be determined to be unacceptable for appointment to a parish nin the church.

The new ¶354 lacks these mandatory requirements. This is unlike ¶355, which requires some form of accusation against the clergy member affecting their good standing in the annual conference. Moreover, a request for involuntary leave made by the bishop and the district superintendent automatically invokes the fair process procedures set forth in ¶362.2.

 

Calendar Item 358, new transitional leave ¶354, is unconstitutional. Calendar Item 359 removing the language of a transitional leave from ¶354 of the Discipline is null and void and the current language for a transitional leave in ¶354 is restored and maintained.

 

DECISION

Security of appointment has long been a part of the tradition of The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies. Abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan for our itinerant superintendency. Fair process procedures, trials and appeals are integral parts of the privilege of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of appeal and is an absolute right which cannot be eradicated by legislation. The amendments to ¶337, as contained in Calendar Item 355, are unconstitutional and violate the third and fourth restrictive rules of the Constitution. The original ¶377 of the Discipline is restored and maintained and the changes made thereto at 2012 General Conference are null, void and of no effect. The amendments to ¶321, as contained in Calendar Items 352, is also declared repugnant to the constitution and hence, unconstitutional. The original ¶321 of the Discipline is restored and maintained and the changes made thereto by the 2012 general Conference are null, void, and of no effect.  Calendar Item 358, the new transitional leave ¶354, is declared unconstitutional and Calendar Item 359, which removed the language of a transitional leave from ¶ 354 of the Discipline, is also declared unconstitutional. The current language for a transitional leave as provided for in ¶354 is restored and maintained. 

 

Sam Hodges, Former Managing Editor, UMR

Sam Hodges

Sam Hodges was the managing editor of The United Methodist Reporter from 2011-2013. A formee reporter for the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer, Sam is a respected voice in United Methodist journalism.

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Jun 13 2012

UMR » General Conference 2012: UMC-supported campaign seeks to bridge poverty gap

Original post at http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2012/06/13/umc-supported-campaign-seeks-to-bridge-poverty-gap/


By Skyler E. Nimmons and Jessica Connor, UMNS…

Karin VanZant holds two baby dolls used in poverty stimulations conducted during the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. Ms. VanZant is CEO of the Circles National Campaign. UMNS PHOTO BY KATHLEEN BARRY

Delegates and visitors to the 2012 United Methodist General Conference had the opportunity to step away from their regular business and broaden their perspectives on the issue of poverty.

From May 1 to 4, a poverty-immersion experience took place in a Tampa Convention Center ballroom. For two hours, participants took on the role of a low-income person through the looking glass of one month in that person’s life.

The simulation was sponsored by the General Board of Global Ministries and the Rural & Urban Network and offered by the nonprofit Think Tank Inc., in partnership with the United Methodist Church.

Think Tank has dreamed up the Circles Initiative, what they consider to be a “real world” solution to poverty. As the number of families living in poverty in the United States continues to grow, the Circles Initiative is an attempt to bridge the gap between haves and have-nots by building relationships.

The Circles program brings together lower-, middle- and upper-income people in a six-month alliance. Located at 70 sites in 24 states across the nation, plus one hub in Canada, Circles sites schedule weekly meetings where people come together, have dinner and then discuss personal and community poverty issues. One lower-income person is matched with several middle- and upper-income allies, all of whom agree to be in relationship for six months.

The idea is that through conversation and friendship, the group can work together to solve individual poverty problems, then spread outward, ultimately tackling community concerns and poverty systems.

Not just Band-Aids

“We don’t want to put a bandage on it,” said the Rev. Don Ford, a United Methodist pastor who is part of the Circles site in Pagosa Springs, Colo. “We want to suture the wound.”

Karin VanZant, Circles CEO, said the project is an opportunity to dispel misconceptions about those who live in poverty, discourage the notion of a quick fix to systemic poverty and bring an understanding of the challenges faced by people living below the poverty line.

For example, obtaining a minimum-wage job at McDonald’s or Starbucks does not mean a financial problem is alleviated. Sometimes, Ms. VanZant said, it is worsened.

“They go to human services to sign up for food stamps and find out, ‘Oh, you have a part-time job; you are not eligible for food stamps.’ And they say, ‘What do you mean? I only make $400 a month,’” she said.

By helping people become more aware of the multitude of obstacles facing those who live in poverty—from governmental red tape to low-paying jobs that prohibit aid—people understand why welfare, drug-dealing or payday lenders are sometimes the difference between a downward slope and survival. Circles organizers hope the poverty simulation will spark thinking in the participants, who might go back to their communities eager to learn more about what they can do to alleviate poverty, and perhaps, even start a Circles site themselves.

When people begin to care on a more personal level, they tend to have greater passion and think in a bigger way about how to solve problems long-term, Ms. VanZant said.

While she knows a two-hour role-playing exercise is quite different from having a brother living in a homeless shelter or a cousin on food stamps, having to experience the emotion of a personal journey is a step in the right direction.

‘How did you feel?’

The two-hour exercise was built to challenge the paradigms participants might have about low-income people, Ms. VanZant said. “The whole intention is to create an anxiety level among participants so they have an emotional reaction and can carry that with them when they walk out of the room.”

After the simulation, the group leaders ask intentional questions to spark thinking: How did you feel? Imagine if this is your real life. What would you do to break the cycle?

Ms. VanZant shared that one participant with a master’s degree lamented that she could not figure out how to navigate human services after her child was taken away during the simulation. Ms. VanZant said she hopes the United Methodist Church will use this simulation to help build awareness on the broad issues encompassed in poverty.

“I would love to see the day when poverty awareness becomes a part of every outreach committee on the local church level. Where they have at least one day a year to challenge their congregation and their community to get involved,” she said.

The Circles Initiative is eager to build conversation starters to equip missionaries and outreach workers to be in ministry with the poor and hopes to see each annual conference start poverty elimination initiatives in the next two years.

The Western North Carolina Conference has nine sites actively participating in the Circles Initiative and is moving to start other sites in the near future. Circles is also in talks with several other conferences throughout the United States to start programs for their communities.

 

Mr. Nimmons is a communications specialist for the Western North Carolina Conference and Ms. Connor is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

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Jun 12 2012

UMR » General Conference 2012: Guaranteed appointment may stand after all

Original post at http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2012/06/12/guaranteed-appointment-may-stand-after-all/


UM Bishop Minerva Carcaño, presiding over a General Conference session in May, surveyed results of a vote to reconsider retaining guaranteed appointments.

General Conference 2012 may not have ended guaranteed appointment for ordained elders after all.

Though delegates at the United Methodist Church’s quadrennial meeting voted to change one relevant part of the Book of Discipline, another was left untouched, apparently inadvertently.

“It appears that there is no end to guaranteed appointments for elders under the 2012 Discipline, though the interpretation of the meaning of such appointment rests with the Judicial Council,” said the Rev. Fitzgerald “Gere” Reist, secretary of General Conference.

Mr. Reist added: “Conflicts in the Book of Discipline are regularly present and that is perhaps a consequence of the way we do business, rushing to complete as many items as we can rather than focusing on the quality of the work we do.

General Conference 2012 began with a long list of reform proposals, but most – including restructuring of general church agencies – bit the dust. Guaranteed appointment was considered the biggest survivor, and now it’s clearly in jeopardy.

“It makes (General Conference) look like even more of a failure than many of us thought it was,” said Lonnie Brooks, a reserve lay delegate to General Conference from the Alaska Conference.

Reformers have argued that guaranteed appointment protects ineffective clergy, something the UMC can ill afford as it tries to reverse decades of membership decline in the United States.

Others have said guaranteed appointment protects women and minority clergy, as well as prophetic voices in the pulpit.

The proposal to end guaranteed appointment was approved in committee, after it was amended to provide additional clergy protection from arbitrary dismissal.

The full General Conference approved the change on the consent calendar, catching many delegates by surprise. Efforts to bring the matter up for reconsideration failed, despite impassioned arguments from opponents.

Delegates did agree to refer the legislation to Judicial Council for review as to whether it comports with church law, and the council has yet to rule.

Mr. Brooks, a veteran General Conference delegate known for his expertise in church law, was among those who discovered the problem that Mr. Reist has acknowledged during interviews today and in communication with the Council of Bishops.

Mr. Brooks said he was asked by Bishop Grant Hagiya of the Pacific Northwest Conference to help with a brief to be submitted to the Judicial Council regarding the legislation. In doing so, he found that while the legislation deleted the requirement in ¶337.1 of the Discipline that an ordained elder in good standing “shall be continued under appointment by the bishop,” it did not change such language in ¶334.1.

A petition that would have changed the language in that part of the Discipline never got acted on by the committee, he said.

The Rev. Ken Carter served on the Study of Ministry Commission that recommended eliminating guaranteed appointment, and also chaired the Western North Carolina Conference delegation to General Conference.

“This appears to be an unintended legislative outcome, removing a statement in one paragraph but leaving it in another,” he said. “The clear intent of the General Conference was to move from continued appointments of elders to missional appointments.   This is yet another indication of how difficult and complex change can be to implement at the denominational level.  It is also true that the Judicial Council will take up the matter of continued appointment, and at present the matter is open to interpretation.”

The Rev. Gary Mueller, pastor of First UMC in Plano, Texas, served on the committee that considered the legislation, and he introduced the amendment that helped the legislation win approval both in committee and the full General Conference.

He said he recalled no discussion in committee on the need to change language in both sections of the Discipline. 

“The will of the conference was clear that it was ready to end guaranteed appointments,” he said. “Gere Reist has rightly pointed out that there’s a discrepancy. I would assume the interpretation of what that means is left to the Judicial Council.”

He added: “We have a system that is so complex that it’s very hard to bring reform to the church. I think we saw that time after time (at General Conference.)”

The Rev. We Hyung Chang, a New England Conference delegate who opposed ending guaranteed appointment, said, “I think this is just another example of what happens when the body tries to push something without fully examining its implication. Judicial Council and our Constitution have become the centering place for our confused church.”

Here’s what Mr. Reist said in a message to bishops:

“The Book of Discipline 2012 does not eliminate security of appointment for elders. The amendments to paragraph 334 that would have mirrored the changes in 337 were not supported by the committee. They were not voted on in the plenary. The language of 334.1,`Every effective elder in full connection who is in good standing shall be continued under appointment by the bishop provided that if the elder is appointed to serve in an affiliated relationship in a missionaryconference (¶ 586) and that appointment is terminated by the bishop who presides in the missionary conference, then the responsibility for meeting this obligation rests with the bishop of the conference of which the elder is a member’ remains in effect.”

And here’s a statement from the Rev. David Bard, Ministry and Higher Education Committee chair at General Conference; the Rev. Amy Gearhart, chair of a subcommittee of that panel; and Bishop Hagiya, a leader of  the Study of Ministry Commission:

“The intent of the HEM legislative committee was clear, even if our action was not as clear as our intent, and the intent was the elimination of the language of security of appointment. In creating ‘transitional leave’ for elders, we made that clear, and appointment to such a leave still constitutes an appointment. (ref. Paragraph 334.1)

“The General Conference plenary also intended the elimination of the language of security of appointment when it voted not to reconsider the legislative committee action on paragraph 337.

The issue of the relationship between paragraphs 334 and 337 is being considered by the Council of Bishops and we need to let them do their work.

“Any final conclusions about the constitutionality of the language or actions re. security of appointment would be premature until a ruling from the Judicial Council in Fall 2012. The process needs to be allowed to move forward.”

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Jun 11 2012

UMR » General Conference 2012: ‘Wilderness of fear, distrust’ seen at GC 2012

Original post at http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2012/06/11/wilderness-of-fear-distrust-seen-at-gc-2012/


By Ricky Harrison, Special Contributor…

The first night of the 2012 General Conference opened with a grand worship service. There were bright lights, cool graphics, beautiful music, abundant prayer shawls and a moving sermon. One of the most moving moments in the service for me was the sight of all of our episcopal leaders, in full vestment, processing behind the cross down the center aisle to the front stage, where the hundreds of active and retired bishops were seated for the service and most of General Conference. It was a beautiful sight to see our clergy leaders, our spiritual shepherds, all gathered and seated in front of us.

As I scanned the crowd of faces I saw many bishops whom I knew or recognized, bishops which I held the utmost respect for and admiration of, bishops that I hoped and believed would lead our beloved United Methodist Church into the future with vision and purpose, bearing healthy and vibrant fruit.

That feeling of reverence, awe and respect (and dare I add even trust?) for those we have lifted up into episcopal leadership only seemed to dissipate as the conference progressed. What quickly became clear to me is that we desire our bishops to lead the Church with a strong vision and prophetic voice, yet we fear giving them the power which would actually allow them to do so.

This became most evident in the debate (no, not discussion, but debate) regarding the non-residential bishop and term limits for bishops. First, the Council of Bishops submitted a petition which would allow for a non-residential president of the COB. What began as an informed presentation by Bishop Larry Goodpaster quickly digressed into an anti-Roman Catholic mudslinging contest on the floor. Charges of totalitarian Popery were casually thrown around, loaded with emotional and non-rational sentiments.

What amazed me the most was not the uneducated remarks that were made publicly on the floor (such as those who didn’t even know enough polity to realize we have a current president of the COB), or the emotional anti-Catholicism which won out over reasoned arguments, but the overarching culture of fear and distrust which surrounded the entire mess. Needless to say, this petition did not pass.

Then, after the removal of guaranteed appointments had been passed on the consent calendar (to the surprise of many delegates), legislation was brought to the floor regarding the assignment of term limits for bishops. This called for bishops to be given an eight-year term limit, with the option for one re-election at Jurisdictional Conference. The fear and distrust experienced in the non-residential bishop debate quickly reared its ugly head again. The debate was again filled with much emotional baggage and not enough rationale discernment.

Broken relationship

I am all for holding bishops accountable, and if we can end guaranteed appointments for clergy, then surely some form of this rule should apply to bishops as well. However, this particular legislation seemed more like retaliation than a well thought-out system of accountability.

Looking back, I am extremely surprised and disappointed at the broken relationship which exists between our bishops and the rest of the Church. As we are currently going through the process of nominating, interviewing and in a few short months voting on new episcopal leaders, it amazes me that we do not trust the leadership we ourselves put into place. How do we expect to move forward as a Church if we won’t even let the leaders we have put into place guide us?

Now I realize that there are bishops who are incompetent, ineffective and/or just plain bad at their job, just as there are district superintendents who are incompetent, ineffective and/or bad at their job, and pastors who are incompetent, ineffective and/or bad at their job. If one has a bad bishop, DS or pastor, then one year is way too long to live/work under them. But if one has a really good bishop, DS or pastor, then 10 years isn’t long enough!

Openness, trust

So how do we begin to live into a system which holds all of us accountable? How do we have constructive conversations with a bishop when he/she is hurting instead of helping their flock? How do we work through problems that clergy and laity face so that we heal relationships instead of throw mud? How do we protect prophetic voices when they face angry criticism?

I believe it starts with living into a system where transparency and accountability are key. Secret messages are not delivered, backroom rants do not occur, closed door bullying sessions are not tolerated. When problems occur, we address them openly instead of attempting to sweep them under the rug or totally ignoring them.

When I make an off-handed remark that demeans those I’m angry or frustrated with, you call me out. We begin to forget the “other,” that is so easily critiqued, and begin to address the individual, who is an imperfect human being. Offer advice. Take advice. Trust me. Trust others. Trust yourself.

Perhaps if we began viewing the relationship between bishops, district superintendents, pastors and laity with less regard for our own well-being and more for that of the “other,” we might even begin to recognize the humanity on the other side of the mirror. Perhaps we might begin to love our bad pastor, incompetent district superintendent and ineffective bishop so much that they can’t help but listen, grow and love with us.

Perhaps we might even find our way out of the wilderness of fear and distrust and maybe, just maybe, get a glimpse of the promised land ahead.

Mr. Harrison, a student at UMC-affiliated McMurry University, was lead lay delegate to General Conference for the North Texas Conference.

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Jun 11 2012

UMR » General Conference 2012: New England delegation: UMC’s identity and unity must be spiritual, not structural

Original post at http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2012/06/11/new-england-conference-delegation-no-common-identity-for-umc/


Editor’s note: This essay comes from the New England Conference delegation to General Conference.

And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.

(Mark 2:22 The NIV)

Preface

 In 2012 the United Methodist Church came of age.  We may not know it yet, but when the motion to adjourn General Conference came at 10:45 on Friday evening, May 4, from Joey Lopez of North Carolina, we were launched from the cozy confines of the nest that had sheltered us for the last 44 years into a new world that we can hardly begin to imagine.

 Some of us may have sensed it at the time, but for most of us there has been a growing realization that what we have been counting on to save our church will never be sufficient for the task.  If we were depending on getting our legislative house in order, we failed to do so.  If we were hoping that instituting strong centralized leadership would be the panacea, all the plans went up in smoke.  If we thought a common theological perspective, or a unified worldview, or new language around inclusion would rescue us—none of these were anywhere to be seen.

 The reality is that the United Methodist church is too big and too diverse to be held together by any of the centers we have relied upon for more than four decades.  We will not be saved by our bishops, our polity, our structure, our metrics, our theology, our doctrine, our social principles, or by Roberts Rules of Order. Thank God!  What Tampa taught us is that the vitality of United Methodism is not to be found in any of its structures.  Our strength and our unity lie in our identity as a spiritual movement, grounded in the grace of God and linked by common practices of personal and social holiness.  Nothing more, nothing less.

 We in the New England delegation are convinced that all efforts to impose a common identity on the Church theologically, ecclesiologically or culturally are not only doomed to failure, but actually thwart the attempts of United Methodist Christians to follow faithfully in the ways of Jesus Christ.  We believe that the old Church with its old myths of a common identity imposed from the center has failed.  We further hold that any new structures that emerge in the years ahead must emphasize relationship among the wonderfully diverse parts of our communion rather than uniformity of practice across the connection.  Further, such plans must not only permit, but must encourage communities to freely meet the needs of people in their own contexts, resourced but not controlled by the support structures of the church.  Such structures include The Discipline, the episcopacy, the General Conference and the boards and agencies.  Each exists only to equip and serve the servants of God’s people.

 Observations

 

  • We are not defeated or dismayed by what happened and what did not happen at the General Conference.  We in the New England delegation, while recognizing that much of what we had hoped for may not have come to fruition, understand that the aftermath of General Conference presents us with new opportunities to reshape the church in a more just and equitable fashion. This opportunity is offered not just to those who attended General Conference but to all in the UMC who are called to serve God’s people.

 

  • The expanding role of the Central Conferences, both numerically and politically, has created a new reality in the church.  The church can no longer operate from a US-centric perspective at General Conference, nor will the theological and cultural norms with which those of us in the US have become familiar suffice for us going forward.  Our future will not be a recapitulation of our past.  There are difficult challenges ahead as the UMC attempts to address worldwide structure issues.  Ours is a church divided by language, culture, theology, social perspective and economic means, just to name a few.  We are hampered by the reality that enabling legislation to create the framework for a new worldwide structure failed four years ago because many in the church were afraid of what it might portend.  (Proposed Constitutional amendments that would have eliminated the term “Central Conferences” in favor of “Regional Conferences” and would have included the US as one of those regions were passed by General Conference, but not endorsed by the required number of persons voting in the annual conferences.) Still, we can find hope and unity if we can envision ways for our Wesleyan heritage to keep us in relationship and our structure to allow us to minister freely and fully in our unique contexts.  If we can rise to this challenge, we may well be on the verge of the richest blessings our church has yet known.

 

  • Any plan for reorganization of the church needs to begin almost immediately and have broad buy-in from many voices, so that it arrives at GC 2016 with momentum and consensus already established.  We must move away from the notion of proportional representation (i.e. areas with the largest membership get the greatest say) and ask instead which perspectives need to be represented in creating our new church.  It may well be that constituencies that are entirely under-represented at the moment are key to the future of the denomination.  Whatever we do, it must be crystal clear that the purpose of any plan is to enable ministry and not to consolidate power.

 

  • Annual Conferences must monitor closely the new power that has been put in the hands of the bishops to withhold appointment from elders in good standing in order to make certain that this tool is not being used to inhibit prophetic and/or inclusive ministry.  Clergy sessions of the annual conference must be especially vigilant in this area.  Additionally we need proactive guidelines for missional appointment-making that protect prophetic preaching and preserve racial, ethnic and gender diversity in our pulpits.  The legislation passed by the General Conference was intended to ensure more effective pastoral leadership in our churches.  We remind ourselves and our appointive authorities that effectiveness can only be truly assessed by taking into consideration the contexts into which persons are sent.

 

  • The New England Delegation is clear that the unity of the church cannot come at the expense of being a fully inclusive church.  Council of Bishops President Rosemary Wenner’s apology to GLBT United Methodists for the harm that our church has caused was a much welcomed and long overdue word, but we need more than words.  The majority of our delegation remains committed to the creation of a UMC where all God’s people are welcome to share all of their gifts.

 

  • We believe that the most fruitful change in any organization always comes from the edges and never from the center.  We are encouraged that the conversation has continued in so many places after General Conference.  We are concerned that these conversations are still confined to the US and challenge those who are engaged in them to expand the circle to the Central Conferences.  Still, we are pleased that so many people still care so passionately about the church we all love.

 

 

 

 

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