PASTORS’ RIGHTS AND RIGHT OF TRIAL 

THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF

THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH

IN THE MATTER OF

THE PETITION OF REV. DR. VINCE L. MONDEN 

DECISION No. 2014-32

This case comes before the Council by a petition for declaratory judgment filed by Rev. Dr. Vince L. Monden, a member in good standing at the time of the filing of the petition of the Ohio Annual Conference, of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, (hereinafter referred to as “The A.M.E. Zion Church”), pursuant to the Rules of the Judicial Council in accordance with 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 in part as follows: 

 

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 

 

No testimony was presented to the Council other than the petition. No hearing was requested as none was needed. The petitioner requests a declaratory judgment on the legal authority and power granted to an African Methodist Episcopal Zion bishop to remove a pastor-in-charge without a 60-day notice and whether he is due an investigation and trial on the removal.  

 

The petitioner was the Pastor-in-Charge of First A. M. E. Zion Church in Columbus, Ohio. A quarterly conference was held at the church on November 18, 2013. In that quarterly conference the petitioner did not pass the character of one of its members. The member sent a letter to the pastor via e-mail communication dated November 26, 2014.  In her letter, the member complained that her character was not passed because she approached the pastor about activities she believed to be inappropriate.  The stated letter was carbon copied to the Bishop and the Presiding Elder.   

 

The Bishop set up a meeting between the Petitioner and the member on January 9, 2014. After the meeting, the Bishop informed the Petitioner that he was going to transfer him to a different church, effective February 1, 2014. On the same day, the Petitioner asked the Bishop to reconsider his decision. It should be noted that the Petitioner stated he considered the transfer a demotion.  On January 14, 2014, the Bishop informed the Petitioner that his decision of January 9, 2014 was final.  On January 14, 2014 the Petitioner convened a members meeting to discuss his removal. On January 19, 2014, the Bishop came to First A.M.E. Zion Church, Columbus, Ohio and informed the Petitioner that he was lifting his appointment effective immediately. On June 11, 2014, Petitioner sent the Bishop at letter advising of his resignation from the A.M.E. Zion denomination.  Petitioner started an independent church.  

 

QUESTIONS PRESENTED 

  1. Whether a bishop has the authority to lift an appointment of a pastor-in-charge during the interim of an annual conference without a 60-day notification without a showing of extreme circumstances? 

 

  2. Whether a pastor-in-charge, whose appointment has been changed because of an allegation of improper conduct, is entitled to due process through an investigation and trial?  

 

DECISION 

  1. Whether a bishop has the authority to lift an appointment of a pastor-in-charge during the interim of an annual conference without a 60-day notification without a showing of extreme circumstances? 

 

        No.  A bishop does not have the authority to lift an appointment of a pastor-in-charge during the interim of an annual conference without a 60-day notification unless there are extreme circumstances. 

 

          Par. 242.3(a) of The Book of Discipline provides that, “He/she shall appoint the preachers to charges annually provided that a 60-day [sic] notification be given for changes of appointments, except in extreme circumstances. 

 

In the matter before this Council, the facts indicate that the Bishop had a meeting with the Pastor on January 9, 2014 and informed the Pastor that he was being moved effective February 1, 2014.  The facts further reflect on January 14, 2014, the Bishop informed the Pastor that he decision of January 9, 2014, was final and the Pastor would in fact be transferred effective February 1, 2014. 

 

Based on the facts before this Council the requisite 60-day notification was not provided pursuant to Par. 242.3(a) of The Book of Discipline.  It should be noted that the issue of a 60-day notification has been previously addressed in decisions by the Judicial Council.  See Decision No. 2014-31 issued February 27, 2014, and Decision No. 2011-27 issued June 12, 2011. 

 

The question then becomes whether “extreme circumstances” existed to warrant the foregoing of the 60-day notification.  Based on the facts presented to this Judicial Council, this Council cannot determine if “Extreme Circumstances” existed and therefore cannot render a decision regarding “Extreme Circumstances”. 

 

   2. Whether a pastor-in-charge, whose appointment has been changed because of an allegation of improper conduct, is entitled to due process through    an investigation and trial? 

A pastor-in-charge whose appointment has been changed because of an allegation of improper conduct is entitled to due process through an investigation and/or trial.  Paragraph 306 of The Book of Discipline states: 

 

¶306. When a Traveling Minister in full connection is under report of being guilty of some crime or immoral conduct, expressly forbidden in the Word of God, sufficient to exclude a person from the kingdom of grace and glory, the following actions shall be taken:  

1. In the interval of the Annual Conference let the Elder to whom the complaint is made call two other Traveling Ministers and examine into the nature of the complaint. If the Committee finds that the complaint warrants a trial, a formal charge shall be made against the accused by a competent person, and the Investigating Committee shall call two or more other Traveling Ministers, which number shall constitute a Trial Committee.  

2. After due notice is given the Trial Committee shall meet, before which it shall be the duty of the accused, and if possible the accuser to appear, and by which if the charge is not sustained, the accused shall be acquitted, but if sustained, he/she shall be suspended from all ministerial functions and church privileges until the ensuing Annual Conference.  

3. If the accused and the accuser cannot be brought face to face, but the supposed delinquent evades trial, it shall be received as a presumptive proof of guilt, and out of the mouth of two or three witnesses he/she shall be condemned.  

4. If the accused refuses or neglects to appear before the said Committee after due notice has been given him/her, the trial may proceed in his/her absence. Witnesses from without shall not be rejected, and the testimony of an absent witness may be taken before the Chairman of the Committee or the Presiding Elder of the District within which such witness resides provided, in every case sufficient notice has been given to the adverse party of the time and place of taking such testimony.  

5. When the Trial Committee assembles, if counsel has not been provided for the church or the accused, the Chairman shall have power to appoint counsel for both, or either, who shall be Members of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.  

6. The Elder into whose hands the charges are placed shall call the Trial Committee, and preside throughout the proceedings of the trial, and shall certify to, and declare the verdict of the Committee. At the beginning of the trial he/she shall demand the credentials of the accused party.

 

7. The Chairman shall cause correct minutes of the charges, specifications, proceedings, evidence in the trial, and the decision of the Committee to be taken, which when read and approved, shall be signed by the Chairman and Secretary of the Committee, and transmitted to the Bishop, and the Annual Conference.

  

8. Supernumerary and Superannuated Ministers shall be dealt with in the same manner as Traveling Ministers.  

 

Pursuant to the facts before this Judicial Council, a complaint regarding allegations of improper conduct was not sent to the Bishop or the Presiding Elder.  The facts indicate a member sent a letter to the Petitioner and carbon copied (cc’d) the Bishop and Presiding Elder on the stated letter. If the decision of the Bishop was in fact based on the allegations of the member’s letter dated November 26, 2014, then the Petitioner was entitled to due process via an investigation and/or a trial pursuant to Paragraph 306.1 of The Book of Discipline.   If however, the decision of the Bishop was not based on the allegation of the member’s letter dated November 26, 2014,   then an investigation and/or trial is not warranted. 

 

The letter to the Petitioner cc’d to the Bishop and the Presiding Elder begs the question, if the bishop and the Presiding Elder were in fact on notice of a complaint of allegations of improper conduct by the Petitioner.  That issue has not been brought before this Judicial Council and we therefore do not have jurisdiction to address that issue. 

 

THEREFORE, it is the decision of the Judicial Council that in the instant case that the Petitioner was entitled to a 60-day notification unless there were “extreme circumstances. Based on the facts presented to the Council, the Council cannot determine if “Extreme Circumstances” existed. This Council further finds that if the Bishop’s decision to transfer the Petitioner was made based on the allegations in the November 26, 2013, letter from the member, an investigation and trial were required However, if the Bishop’s decision was not based on the allegations in the November 26, 2013, letter from the member, then an investigation and trial were not required.   

 

BY ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL THIS 24th DAY OF July, 2014. 

All Concurring 

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