PASTORAL APPOINTMENTS VS. PASTORS’ RIGHTS 

THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF

THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH

IN THE MATTER OF

THE PETITION OF REV. ROBERT E. LINDER

DECISION No. 2014-31

This case comes before the Council by petition for declaratory judgment filed by Rev. Robert E Linder, an ordained Elder, (hereinafter referred to as “Petitioner”), a member in good standing of the  Western New York Annual Conference, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, (hereinafter referred to as “The A.M.E. Zion Church”), pursuant to the Act passed by the 1988 General Conference (as Amended by The Book of Discipline of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, (2008)) (hereinafter referred to as “The Discipline”) which reads:  

“Par. 360. ARTICLE II - JURISDICTION 

a)  The Council shall have appellate function. 

b)  The Council shall not have original jurisdiction, since decisions are declaratory and final in the interim of the General Conference. 

c)  The Council is amenable to the General Conference, and any decision of the Council may be reversed or modified by the General Conference in regular or special session.”  Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (hereinafter referred to as “The Discipline”) 2008, Article II, ¶ 360.   

 

Par. 361. ARTICLE III - DUTIES 

 

b)  To hear and make declaratory judgments when petitioned to do so when any law is subject to more than one interpretation or any paragraph in The Book of Discipline is of doubtful meaning.   Any person in good and regular standing in The A.M.E. Zion Church can petition the Judicial Council for such a judgment.  The Council's decision is final, unless revised or reversed by the General Conference.”  Id. Par. 361, Art. III. 

 

FACTS OF THE CASE 

 

The Western New York Annual Conference, Northeast Episcopal District, met June 26-30, 2013, at Peoples A.M.E. Zion Church, Syracuse, NY.  The Right Rev. Roy A. Holmes was the Presiding Prelate of that District until his demise.  The Right Rev. Dennis V. Proctor was assigned to superintend the work of the late Bishop Holmes.  Prior to the Annual Conference, the Petitioner was the Pastor of The Fifth Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church, Troy, NY, since 2005. Without any prior notice, the Petitioner was appointed to the St. James A.M.E. Zion Church, Ithaca, NY by Bishop Proctor.  Allegedly, the transfer was made on the recommendation of the  Presiding Elder.  

According to the Petitioner, the assignment to St. James, Ithaca, came as a surprise and complete shock. This move was a demotion for the Petitioner as he was sent from the first church of one district to the fourth church on another. Allegedly, there was no conversation or notice given. Petitioner was sent from a congregation of 145 members with a full salary, plus health insurance and travel, to a congregation of 20 members, with a lower salary plus health insurance.  Petitioner claims that since his first appointment in 1979, all his pastoral assignments were always upward or lateral in status. In prior moves, Petitioner was always informed by the Presiding Bishop personally as to the upcoming change before it was read out on the conference floor and on two occasions, a transfer before conference.   

Petitioner asserts that he has not violated any church law or have never had any charges brought against him. Petitioner believes several laws of the church were violated by the Bishop and he raised several questions to the Judicial Council for declaratory judgment. 

QUESTIONS PRESENTED 

 

1.  For changes in pastoral appointments, does the 60-day notice requirement, except in extreme circumstances, apply to a bishop assigned to superintend the work of a deceased bishop? 

2.  Are items adopted for the support of the check-up meeting and Annual Conference sessions such as offerings, roll call, support of special projects to name a few considered an assessment as Connectional Budget and therefore mandatory, and that the non-payment of such items would be considered an offense and can be used to hold up the passing of character of the pastor of the church or be used a grounds for not being reassigned? 

3.  As a Presiding Elder is chosen and appointed by the Bishop, for one year at a time and may remain in one district as long as it is profitable. Can one person be assigned as Presiding Elder over two districts in two separate annual conferences? 

4.  Is it the responsibility of the Annual Conference Board of Trustees to consider matters of a local church as it relates to property and report that to the Annual Conference for action. 

5.  If a Bishop utilizes information given him by the Presiding Elder or members of a local congregation which would impact the change in assignment of the pastor, does the pastor have the right to be made aware of the information before the change is made? 

 

6.  Appointments are made one year for one year. Is it lawful for a Bishop to declare an assignment good for 90 days? 

DECISION 

1.  For changes in pastoral appointments, does the 60-day notice requirement, except in extreme circumstances, apply to a bishop assigned to superintend the work of a deceased bishop? 

Yes.  The 60-day notice requirement applies to all bishops who make changes in pastoral appointments.  In the instant case before the Judicial Council, Rev. Robert E Linder (hereinafter referred to as the" Petitioner") was assigned by Bishop Dennis Proctor at the 2013 Western New York Annual Conference from Fifth Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church, Troy, New York to St. James A.M.E. Zion Church, Ithaca, New York without any prior notice of the change in appointment.  There is no indication that prior to the death of Bishop Roy Holmes that a notice was given to the Petitioner.  Absent such, the Bishop appointed to superintend the work of the conference was bound by the 60-day notice requirement. 

The present Petitioner asserts in his petition the issue of due process regarding “notice."  It is that specific aspect of the petition the Judicial Council will address here. 

Among the duties of a Bishop in the A.M.E. Zion Church is: 

"3. To make out the appointments of the preachers under the following restrictions: 

a. He/she shall appoint the preacher to charges annually provided that a 60 day notification be given for changes of appointment, except in extreme circumstances. 

b.  He/she shall allow a preacher is to remain in a charge four consecutive years, provided, in his/her judgment, it is best; but no longer, unless he/she is building a church or parsonage or engaged in paying off some heavy  church  debt; he/she then may allow him/her to stay longer at his/her discretion. Provided, however, that this rule does not refer to preachers in foreign fields. 

c. He/she shall appoint no preacher to a Pastoral charge who is not a subscriber to our official periodicals.  

Id. at ¶ 242, p. 83.  It is quite clear from the above provision that a Bishop can assign a pastor to a new charge. The only thing left is the requirement of a 60-day advance notice of a change in appointment.  Due process is required in the reassignment of a pastor as is mandated by Restrictive Rule 3 and paragraph 242 (a) above. The 60-day notification of a change in appointment is not as absolute as the authority of a Bishop to make the change. A closer reading of paragraph 242(a) provides, "except in extreme circumstances." Absent such a circumstance, the 60-day requirement must control. In the instant case, the Petitioner asserts that he knew nothing of the as reassignment until he arrived at the Annual Conference. Also, he contends that this reassignment was motivated by his having not met all of the financial asking over and above the assessments that were required by the Annual Conference. In situations surrounding Pastoral appointments, the presiding bishop is armed with information that the general populace may not be privy to and his/her actions may seem unfair.  However, if other privileged information is considered, fairness may not be an issue.  Until one has all the information that the Bishop uses to make the decision, it is impossible to determine whether the reassignment violated paragraph 242.3(a). 

  

2.  Are items adopted for the support of the check-up meeting and Annual Conference sessions such as offerings, roll call, support of special projects to name a few considered an assessment as Connectional Budget and therefore mandatory, and that the non-payment of such items would be considered an offense and can be used to hold up the passing of character of the pastor of the church or be used as grounds for not being reassigned? 

This question presents two distinct issues: (1) whether financial support of local activities are considered assessments; and (2) whether nonpayment of items for local activities present a character issue and can prevent the passing of a pastor’s character.   Yes, to the former issue, if they are adopted and/or budgetary items.  Yes also for the latter issue.  Among the duties of a Pastor in Charge of a circuit or station, The Discipline states: 

 

¶251.  16. To lift a collection of one dollar or more, each, for the specific purpose of bearing the expense of the district conference, and to collect the assessments for the annual conference. 

25.  To carry out the law respecting the expenses of the general conference, and any other special collections levied by the proper power for the success of the church.  

Id. At ¶251.16 and 25, pp.90-91.    

3.  As a Presiding Elder is chosen and appointed by the Bishop, for one year at a time and may remain in one district as long as it is profitable, Can one person be assigned as Presiding Elder over two districts in two separate annual conferences? 

 

 Yes.  "Traveling ministers who have been elected to official positions by the general conference, or appoint to similar positions by the annual conference or Bishop shall be members of each annual conference as they may select upon the approval of the Bishop."  Id. at 222, p. 77.  Accordingly, the presiding elder can be the presiding elder of two annual conferences upon the approval of the Bishop. 

4.  Is it the responsibility of the Annual Conference Board of Trustees to consider matters of a local church as it relates to property and report that to the Annual Conference for action. 

It is well established law of the A.M.E. Zion Church that the Trustees are in charge of church property.   

It is the duty of the Board of Trustees to provide a place of worship and take charge of and protect the church property with all of its appurtenances in trust for the membership, and make such improvements as may be necessary from time to time for the interest of the Society of which they are Trustees; and to see that order and decorum are at all times observed in the church, and where there is not a Board of Stewards, to perform the duties therein stated.

 

1. The Trustee Board of each church shall be required to submit Annual reports as to the amount of insurance coverage on their church properties and the amount of premium paid. Insurance representing an amount not less than replacement value of all real and personal property of each church shall be paid on or before the expiration date of each policy. 

 

The Discipline, ¶498, Page 177.  Additionally, The Discipline is very clear that all church property is held in trust for the A.M.E. Zion Church.  However, there are no provisions in The Discipline for Conference Trustees.  

 

It is the duty of the trustees of the local church that does the reporting.  Paragraph 495 states: 

The Board of Trustees for every church shall be responsible to the Quarterly Conference of the Charge, and shall be required to present a full report of its acts at every Quarterly Conference. The Conference shall have the power to confirm their election, and to remove any of them from causes, when not in conflict with the law of the State or Territory.

 

Id., ¶495, Page 177.  However, there is nothing to prevent an Annual Conference from establishing a Conference Board of Trustees.  This is particularly important where a local society has ceased to function and there is property belonging to that society.  When a local society ceases to exist, the Annual Conference assumes control of the property until such time asThe A.M.E. Zion Church assumes responsibility.  In many cases, The A.M.E. Zion Church assigns the responsibility of control and/or distribution of property left behind by a defunct society to the Annual Conference having the situs of the property.  Under these circumstances, the trustees must report its actions to the Annual Conference. 

5.  If a Bishop utilizes information given him by the Presiding Elder or members of a local congregation which would impact the change in assignment of the pastor, does the pastor have the right to be made aware of the information before the change is made? 

 

The question presented is more of a question of management style than of church law.  As presented, the Petitioner presents no church law in controversy.   

 

6.  Appointments are made one year for one year. Is it lawful for a Bishop to declare an assignment good for 90 days? 

As stated above, a Bishop is required to appoint pastor to a charge annually and that the appointment is for one year.  The appointment is for the length of time stated on the Certificate of Appointment.  ( The Discipline at ¶242.3).  A further duty of a bishop is: “To change in the interim of the annual conference, the appointments of the preachers as necessity may require.”  Id., at ¶242.4, p. 83.  The Discipline does not put a minimum time limit on appoints.  A bishop has absolute authority to make temporary appointments or he/she may appoint a pastor on a trial basis for a period of less than one year.  Therefore, a 90-day appointment is within the discretion of a bishop in The A.M.E. Zion Church. 

The issues presented in this Petition are REMANDED for action consistent with this decision. 

BY ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL THIS 27th DAY OF February, 2014. 

Chief Justice Walker for the Council 

All concurring  

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