PRESIDING ELDER AND PASTORAL FUNCTIONS
THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF
THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH
IN THE MATTER OF
THE PETITION OF GWENDOLYN L. WILLIAMS
DECISION No. 2015-34
This matter is before The Judicial Council by a petition filed by Gwendolyn L. Williams (hereinafter referred to as Petitioner), a member in good standing of St. Luke A.M.E. Zion Church, Buffalo, NY, New York Annual Conference. The Petitioner requests clarification and declaratory judgment regarding the actions of the Presiding Elder.
The Judicial Council shall not have original jurisdiction, since decisions are declaratory and final in the interim of the General Conference. The Discipline, Paragraph 361, Article II(b), 2012.
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 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 by the General Conference. The Discipline, ¶ 362, Art. III(b), 2012.
FACTS OF THE CASE
According to the Petitioner, she serves as the chairperson of the Central Budget Board (hereinafter referred to as the CBB) and the Chief Financial Officer of the St. Luke A.M.E. Zion Church. She has served in this position for the past six (6) years. During this period, she, together with the Pastor, Financial Secretary and Treasurer, has prepared the Quarterly Conference Report for said church. Petitioner alleges that the Quarterly Conference forms used by the local church contain all necessary information required for the Annual Conference. The Quarterly Conference forms also contain a summary page and monthly breakdown of each expenditure category as requested by the members. Petitioner further alleges that the Presiding Elder of the Buffalo District did not accept the financial report for the First Quarterly Conference and tabled it until the Second Quarterly Conference. According to the Petitioner, on Wednesday, November 5, 2014, the Presiding Elder visited St. Luke and without conferring with the Pastor in charge, approached the CBB Treasurer seeking her e-mail address. He said he was going to send the Treasurer some documents to be used for the impending Quarterly Conference. The Petitioner further states that in the e-mail, the Presiding Elder told the Treasurer that she was to contact him for any further assistance. He provided the Treasurer with forms to be used for the financial report for the Quarterly Conference. It appears that the Presiding Elder wanted a report that contained weekly expenditures of each line item category. The Petitioner maintains that this was done without the Pastor’s knowledge. On Thursday, November 6, 2014, the Presiding Elder’s e-mail to the treasurer was forwarded to the Petitioner by the treasurer. Additionally, during the Second Quarterly Conference, without the presence of the Pastor in charge, the Presiding Elder provided that he wanted the February bank statement presented at the Third Quarterly and the finance books presented at the Fourth Quarterly Conference. The Petitioner questions the actions of the Presiding Elder and herein submits her questions for declaratory judgment.
Question 1. Is it proper protocol for the Presiding Elder of a District to circumvent the Pastor in charge of a Station by approaching the lay officers of said Station and requesting, demanding or advising said officers to report to or seek assistance from said Presiding Elder without first speaking with the Pastor in charge?
No. It is well established church law that "the Presiding Elder shall not assume pastoral functions where there is a pastor;" The Discipline, ¶249, p. 92, 2012. In the instant case, it was improper for the Presiding Elder to interact with the lay officers of the local church/station concerning local church matters without the involvement of the Pastor in charge of the local station.
It is not uncommon for a Presiding Elder to offer assistance, make a request, or even give advice to persons working in the local church; however, this must be done with extreme care not to embark upon assuming the pastoral function. In any event, the Pastor in charge must be aware and consent to the Presiding Elder who embarks upon such an undertaking.
Question 2. Is it proper protocol for the Presiding Elder of a District to circumvent the Pastor in charge by ordering the Central Budget Board (hereinafter referred to as "CBB") of a station to use documents "he/she" created which are not sanctioned by The A.M.E. Zion Church or distributed by the General Secretary-Auditor?
No. The General Secretary-Auditor of The A.M.E. Zion Church has the responsibility to ensure that the proper forms are made available throughout the Connection. His or her duties include the following:
6. To edit and issue all necessary blanks, receipts, books, credentials and certificates for the use of the Bishop, Presiding Elders, Pastors and Conferences.
7. The 46th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference directs that the General Secretary-Auditor of The A.M.E. Zion Church develop and publish a detailed Instruction Guide to assist in the preparation of the Pastor’s Statistical Reporting Form.
The Discipline, ¶375.6-7, p. 135, 2012. Based on the above provisions of The Discipline, it was improper for the Presiding Elder to create or modify the established forms used by the CBB without approval of the General Secretary-Auditor. In this case, neither the forms used by the Presiding, or the local church were sanctioned by The A.M.E. Zion Church. The local church has a right to create financial forms to meet the needs of the local church as long as they continue to use the forms required by the Annual Conference and the General Secretary-Auditor. The Presiding Elder requires certain financial information and there is nothing prohibiting the development of a financial form to be used by the Presiding Elder. It is up to the Presiding Elder and the local church to reach a compromise as to the reporting of financial data and such compromise must be done with the Pastor’s knowledge and consent. Ordering the CBB of the local church to use such documents is a pastoral function and should come from the pastor and/or with the approval of the pastor. The answer to question one above adequately addresses the issue of pastoral functions.
Question 3. A. Is it the prerogative/privilege of the Pastor in charge to submit financial reports for his/her church?
B. Is it the authority of the Presiding Elder in charge of a District to create forms for the use of the local station?
The answer to “A” above regarding the submission of church financial information is not one of the prerogatives/privileges of the Pastor in charge, it is a mandate pursuant to The Discipline which states in part that it is the duty of the Pastor in charge:
To make an exact report to The Annual Conference of all the items embraced in the statistics of the conference, and to pay the conference treasurer or to the proper person all the monies raised for our connectional budget, and to report in open conference whether he/she has presented the claims of our connectional budget according to the requirements of the discipline.
The Discipline, ¶252, p. 97, 2012.
The answer to “B” above is no. Further explanation is given in the answer to question 2 above. In the case at hand, the Presiding Elder is treading close to performing Pastoral functions in violation of ¶249 of The Discipline as explained heretofore.
Question 4. Is it proper protocol for the Presiding Elder to demand bank statements and the station books be opened to him/her without a complaint of impropriety from the Pastor in charge?
No. The accuracy of the financial records of a local church is a function of the Pastor in charge and the officers of the local church. There is no requirement that the Presiding Elder inspect financial records of a local church to the level of reviewing the bank statements and checkbooks without the Pastor’s consent unless there is a complaint of impropriety. However, The Discipline provides that the Quarterly Conference is: “To examine into the accounts of Pastors, trustees, stewards, and the societies subject to the Quarterly Conference. "The Discipline", ¶ 177.5 p. 64, 2012.
Question 5. Is the Presiding Elder abusing his/her authority by calling a meeting of the lay leaders of the CBB and the Board of Stewards after the closing prayer/benediction of the Quarterly Conference?
Yes. The first point to note is that the Presiding Elder has no jurisdiction over the laity of a local church; however, lay leaders of organizations amenable to the Quarterly Conference are subject to the authority of the Presiding Elder, but only during a Quarterly or District Conference. Once the Conference is closed, those lay leaders revert back under the authority of the Pastor in charge. For the Presiding Elder to assume authority over lay leaders or even leaders of organizations amenable to the Quarterly Conference after the Conference ends, that Presiding Elder is embarking upon pastoral functions which is a violation of ¶249 of The Discipline.
Question 6. Is the Presiding Elder sowing discord by attempting to disrupt the Christian harmony and fellowship of the aforementioned station, it's Pastor in charge, lay officers and its financial boards by circumventing the Pastor in charge by convening a meeting of the lay officers and by contacting lay officers of a station without the direct knowledge, consent or privilege of the Pastor in charge; thus attempting to reconfigure the financial system and the Central Budget Board and Board of Stewards which was duly organized by the Pastor in charge for the Conference Year of July 2014-June 2015?
No. The facts as presented by the Petitioner do not contain elements necessary to establish a sowing of discord. To sow discord, one must establish that the offending person (the accused) is acting consistently with the intent to break up the harmony of Christian fellowship among the members or Pastor in charge. While the facts of the instant case suggest that the Presiding Elder was displaying inappropriate conduct by interacting with the members of the local church without the apparent involvement of the Pastor in charge, there are no facts given that would suggest that the Presiding Elder was acting with an intent to turn the members against the Pastor in charge or vice versa.
The issues presented in this Petition are REMANDED for action consistent with this decision.
BY ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL THIS 11th DAY OF February, 2015.
Chief Justice Walker and Justice Matthews for the Council
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