CHECK-UP MEETING: RECEIVING CONNECTIONAL CLAIMS

THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF

THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH

IN THE MATTER OF

THE PETITION OF BISHOP GEORGE E. BATTLE, SR.

DECISION No. 2011-024

This case comes before the Judicial Council by petition from the Right Reverend George E. Battle, Sr., the presiding bishop of the North Eastern Episcopal District of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

 

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.

 

,   ¶ 360, Article II,  The Book of Discipline of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, (2004)

 

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. at ¶ 361, Article III.

 

FACTS

 

The petition requests a “clarification” relative to three questions, and the decision at hand only provides an answer to one of the questions (see next section). The one question herein addressed provides a clarification of The Book of Discipline of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (2004), pursuant to page 167, paragraph 423: “Pastor in Charge shall report the Connectional Budget amount collected and remit the amount at The Annual Conference Check-up Meeting.”

 

QOUESTIONS TO BE DECIDED

 

 1.  “Whether a Check-up Meeting of an annual conference of The A.M.E. Zion Church is allowed to hear reports or summaries of conference committees, denominational commissions, or other related matters solely for informational purposes?”

 

Chapple for The Council

Los Angeles California

 

DECISION

 

Since 1744 in England when the first Methodist conference was held, and since 1773 when Francis Asbury lead the first American Methodist conference, the people called “Methodist” have made “conferencing” part of their ethos and ethic. (“Conferencing” is the technical and ecclesial terminology used in broader Methodist circles). In the earliest forging of a Methodist polity, an annual conference among British Wesleyans consisted of “all” the meetings and recorded minutes pursued over the course of an entire year. As the practice became cumbersome and taxing, Wesley and his followers in time adopted a less involved conference schedule. Whether in England or America, Methodist “conferencing” albeit an annual conference established an ecclesial agenda to guide the coming together of clergy, and in time included the laity. Most characteristically, an annual conference pursued an agenda whereby discipline was strengthened, doctrine was discussed, administrative problems were addressed, appeals were heard, ecclesial legislation was enacted, ministers accounted for their labor, and ministerial appointments to charges were made.

 

The A.M.E. Zion Church is, of course, an heir to the historic Methodist practice of “conferencing.” As such, our denominational polity requires that we pursue an ecclesial agenda that unfolds customarily over the course of a week. This ecclesial agenda for an A.M.E. Zion annual conference is set-forth in our Book of Discipline (2004, “The Annual Conference” — most particularly p. 60, paragraph 159). This prescribed agenda so stipulated by The Book of Discipline must be pursued and concluded at the “fixed” setting of the week-long annual conference as mandated on page 54 (paragraph 147).  An implied definition of an actual annual conference is suggested in this reference to The Book of Discipline.  This implied definition suggests that an annual conference is the official meeting of clergy and laity over the days where upon “the annual conference shall appoint the time and place of its own setting” (Discipline, 2004, p.54).  Some would argue, then, that an annual conference is convened only during the course of the days set aside as the “week of conference.” The matter of “Annual Conference Check-up Meetings” problematizes such a limited way of defining an annual conference, however.

            In this regard, and The AME Zion Church reaches back and adheres to the original and most traditional way in which an annual conference was described in early Wesleyan practice: all the meetings and recorded minutes pursued over the course of the year comprise the designation of and "annual conference." Given this description, a "Check-up Meeting" is indeed a meeting of the annual conference, and as such, when the annual conference gathers at the Check-up Meeting, all personnel duly legislated by The Book of Discipline for the week-long convening of the annual conference must be in attendance. A checkup meeting, then, must produce the same gathering of people who comprise the official body of the attendees on par with the week-long annual conference where an agenda is pursue as stipulated by the section entitled "The Annual Conference" in The Book of Discipline.

 

            As the agenda for an "Annual Conference Check-up Meeting," it is delineated clearly by our polity as a meeting that convenes "at least three" times per year were a "Pastor in Charge shall report the Connectional Budget amount collected and remit the amount at the Annual Conference Check-up Meeting" (Discipline, 2004, paragraph 423, p. 167). In short, the polity of our connection mandates that a Check-up Meeting convenes only to receive the Connectional Budget from pastors.

 

            A practice, however, of conducting additional business that the setting of the annual conference Check-up Meeting has become a tradition as well. Given that the pursuit of additional business attempts, on the one hand, to foster a better conception of the "stewardship" of time, this practice seems commendably expedient. Should the pursuit of this additional business move the Check-up Meeting to reassume "the business of the annual conference" as stipulated under the heading of "The Annual Conference" in our Discipline, such a practice violates clearly the “letter" of the law.

 

The Book of Discipline, then, prescribes two different ecclesial agendas for the convening of the week-long "annual conference" and, then, the convening of an "Annual Conference Check-up Meeting." Our polity in no clause under the heading of "The Annual Conference" grants that the work of the week-long annual conference may be subsumed within an agenda of the Check-up Meeting. Even the reception of reports for "informational purposes" stems from a practice of "expediency" rather than an ethic of strict "adherence" to the polity of our church. Further still, however, the receiving reports for informational purposes alone (that is, taking no action in the form of a vote upon the report) seems a benevolent practice at best an ensures an enriched use of a Check-up Meeting' he s sense of time

 

Given the distinction between the ecclesial agendas both for the week-long session of the annual conference and, then, the Check-up Meeting, it seems best that the letter of the law relative to Check-up Meetings be pursued, i.e., “the Pastor in Charge shall report and remit the {Connectional Budget] at. . . Check-up Meetings” (paragraph 423, p. 167, The Discipline). It would perhaps be best, further still, if the General Conference passed new legislation that would in turn approve a reconceptualization of a Check-up Meeting agenda: thus allowing an extension of the present agenda (Discipline, paragraph 423, p. 167). Such an extension, then, would grant the right not only for collecting the Connectional Budget but also give permission to broaden the Check-up agenda. Such an agenda could include then practices on the following order: receiving reports (and even taking action upon those reports); receiving summaries of conference committees along with reports from denominational commissions; continuing the business of the week-long annual conference session; and/or assuming other business that merits appropriate consideration from the annual conference’s duly appointed gathering of clergy and laity. To assign with specificity such a possible agenda to a Check-up Meeting would eliminate the dilemma of adhering to a practice of “expediency” whereby that practice is a benevolent one but nonetheless stands without codified authority from The Book of Discipline.

 

THEREFORE, it is the decision of the Council that a practice that allows the agenda at Check-up Meetings to hear “reports or summaries of conference committees, denominational commissions, or other related matters solely for informational purposes” violates the letter of the Law as presently known to our book of polity. The above practices certainly are not egregious acts for a Check-up Meeting to pursue, however. In fact, they can helpful in their intent and facilitate a better execution of the stewardship of time for a conference. The General Conference would do well, as a consequence, to pass legislation that provides a “clearly” stated and broadened Check-up Meeting agenda: one that exceeds the one and only mandate now granted by the Discipline, i.e., receiving connectional assessment.

 

2.  Does an overlap exist in the duties of the Judicial Council as outlined in Part VI, Chapter Nine, Paragraph 361, Article III of The Book of Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and those of the Episcopacy as set forth in Section IX, Paragraph 36, Article IV of the Constitution of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church concerning the authority to decide questions of law? If an overlap does exist, is an amendment to the Constitution necessary to empower the Judicial Council to decide questions of law pertaining to an Annual Conference?.

 

Jackson for The Council

New Rochelle, New York

 

            The duties of the Judicial Council as set forth in Part VI, chapter 9, paragraph 361, article III of The Book of Discipline of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church are as follows:

 

a)   To study faithfully and honestly the laws and rules governing The African Methodist Episcopal Zion church.

 

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 of The AME 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.

 

c)   To hear the appeal and determine any appeal from a bishop’s decision on a question or ruling made in an annual conference on some positive law which affects some substantial right of the one(s) making the appeal.

 

d)   The Judicial Council shall not have the right to interfere, in any way, with the right of the Bishop to appoint, assigned, transferred, or remove pastors as set forth in The Book of Discipline nor with the right of a Bishop to administer The Discipline of The AME Zion Church.

 

e)   To hear and determine an appeal of a Bishop when taken from the decision of a trial court.

 

f)   To hear and determine an appeal from an elder when taken from the decision of a trial court.

 

            The Book of Discipline expounds upon the duties of the judicial Council in describing its sessions at Part VI, chapter 9, paragraph 364, article VI, subdivision d: "The Council shall pass upon the decisions of law made by the chief executive officers in Annual Conference or interpretation of existing law by the Board of Bishops."

 

            The parameters of the jurisdiction of the judicial Council can be found in Part VI, chapter 9, paragraph 360, Article II of The Book of Discipline of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church:

 

(a) The Council shall have appellate function.

 

(b) The Council shall not have original jurisdiction, since the 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.

 

            Original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction are two distinct powers to hear a type of case that is before a particular authority. Original jurisdiction has been defined in Black’s who Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition as "jurisdiction to take cognizance of a calls at its inception, try it, and pass judgment upon the law and facts." Appellate jurisdiction refers to the power and authority to take cognizance of a call and proceed to is the termination not in its initial stage (i.e., Original jurisdiction) but only after it has been finally decided by a tribunal having the attributes of a court.

 

The Book of Discipline of The A.M.E. Zion Church mandates that, “A bishop shall decide all questions of law in the annual conference, subject to an appeal to the general conference.” See, Part I, The Constitution, Division II, Section IX, Paragraph 36, Article IV. The duties of a bishop are set forth in Chapter Five,  Part IV, Paragraph 242, The Book of Discipline.. The above-mentioned duty set forth in The Constitution is reiterated in said paragraph at subdivision 10. Among the other duties as set forth in subdivision 1 of the aforementioned paragraph is to preside in the annual and general conferences.

 

Pursuant to The Discipline, a bishop is empowered with original jurisdiction over matters pertaining to an annual conference and the Judicial Council is empowered with appellate jurisdiction with respect to decisions of law rendered by the bishop presiding at an annual conference. Both the Judicial Council and the Episcopacy are amenable to the General Conference.

 

THEREFORE, it is the decision of the Judicial Council that that the duties and authorities of the Judicial Council do not overlap or conflict with those of a bishop because bishops have been conferred with original jurisdiction while the Judicial Council has been conferred with appellate jurisdiction. In view of the Judicial Council’s disposition of the second question presented, the third question need not be addressed.

 

  BY ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCI THIS 19th DAY OF FEBRUARY 2009

Old Greenwich, Connecticut

All Concurring

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