CHANGE OF PASTORAL APPOINTMENT
THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF
THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH
IN THE MATTER OF
THE PETITION OF EARL HARRIS
DECISION No. 2005-020
This matter is before the Judicial Council by petition filed by from Earl Harris, a member in good standing of Big Zion Church in Mobile, Alabama, in accordance with the Rules of the Judicial Council (as amended) for a declaratory judgment regarding the 60-day notification of change of appointment for traveling ministers which reads in part as follows:
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.”
Article II, ¶ 360, The Book of Discipline of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (2004), (hereinafter referred to as “The Discipline”).
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. at Article III, ¶ 361.
Petitioner seeks a declaratory judgment of Paragraph 242.3a, page 93, The Book of Discipline The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (2004), regarding the 60 day notification of change of appointment for traveling ministers. No testimony was presented to the Council. No hearing requested, as none is needed. The petitioner presented a question to the Council.
QUESTION TO BE DECIDED
1. Does the form letter now customarily sent by bishops of the connection to traveling ministers 60 days prior to the convening of the annual conference adhere to the requirements of the law with regard to clergy notification of a change of appointment?
The above question involves Paragraph 242.3a, page 93, The Discipline regarding the duties of a Bishop reads:
"He/she shall appoint the preachers to charges annually provided that a 60 day notification be given for changes of appointment, except in extreme circumstances."
The language of this ecclesial stricture problematizes the presence of a richly defined protocol as pertains to the assigning of traveling ministers to their respective charges. The absence of such a protocol create an interpretative space whereby a bishop of the connection may employ a broadly stated letter relative to a change of appointment as a disciplinary and Episcopal "loophole" rather than as a thoroughly sober means to inform specific clergy of a specific and impending change of appointment. While The Book of Discipline privileges a measure of hermeneutical ambiguity in conceiving how a law is to be applied, the interpretation and, then, application of the law, however, must adhere to the "spirit" of the law which determines its origins. When a law is interpreted in a manner that violates its ecclesial, then that interpretation stands suspect at best. In this regard, the Method quadrilateral becomes even a guideline for interpreting the laws of the church, especially the guidelines of "reason" and the "experience" in this instance. Such an interpretative gesture, that is to say one that violates the spirit of the law, weighs heavily when employing the use of a form letter as notification for a change in appointment. When a form letter stands as a means to exploit a disciplinary and Episcopal loophole, it violates the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law that guided the creation of the 60 day notification clause stands as an attempt to provide an ecclesial stricture that functions within the church’s infrastructure to keep our appointment system from capricious displays of political and personal expediency rather than a thorough going mode of decision-making grounded in an authentic use of Godly judgment. A form letter then clearly violate the spirit of the law, therefore, it also violates the letter of the law relative to the notification of an impending and specific change in an appointment.
In lieu of a form letter and 60 day before a change of appointment, clergy would do well to receive either a letter (written with specificity for a particular ministerial situation), a phone call, or a conversation. A bishop, it would seem, also has the option to consider informing a minister of a change in appointment through official word or correspondence given by a presiding elder or other conference designee. As The Book of Discipline certainly states, however, a bishop has the right to appoint traveling ministers to charges without benefit of notification for reason of "extreme circumstances."
BY ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL, (2005)