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May 12, 2000 GC-071

Judicial Council finds proposed order of ministry unconstitutional

CLEVELAND (UMNS) – The United Methodist’s Church’s supreme court ruled late May 11 that the church’s constitution does not support creation of a lay assistant category of ministry under appointment of a bishop.

The Judicial Council was asked for a determination by General Conference, the denomination’s highest legislative assembly, in session May 2-12. The retiring council continues to serve the General Conference until its adjournment May 12. Five new members were elected to the council during this session of the conference. They will assume office when the assembly ends.

The proposed legislation originated with a member of the United Methodist Rural Fellowship (UMRF) and was supported by that group as a solution to the growing need for ministerial leadership in very small membership churches. The original proposal called for a "certified lay preacher" program. That was modified in the Discipleship Legislative Committee to be a plan for "certified lay assistants" with other changes.

In its ruling, the Judicial Council said that under the church’s constitution, "a bishop has no authority to appoint lay persons to charges." The council concluded that the proposal as amended by the committee for consideration by the General Conference "would be unconstitutional if adopted."

Oral hearings were held with nine people participating. Six people advocated in favor of the legislation, and three others spoke against it. The speakers included several members of the rural fellowship and delegates.

Supporters of the legislation included the Rev. Arnold A. Rhodes, the delegate who asked that the question be referred to the council; he is a district superintendent and UMRF member from Kane, Pa. Others who spoke for it included Alec Alvord, a UMRF member from Charlotte, N.C., who wrote the original proposal; Jean Edmister, a reserve delegate from Lockport, N.Y., who is involved in lay speaking ministries; the Rev. James Waugh, UMRF member and a reserve delegate from Hilliard, Ohio; the Rev. Jeffrey E. Greenway, chairman of the Discipleship Legislative Committee and a district superintendent from Pittsburgh; and the Rev. Ed Kail, UMRF president, seminary professor and delegate, Kansas City, Mo.

Opposing the proposed legislation were the Rev. Joy Barrett, a delegate, voting member of the churchwide Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and UMRF member from Ann Arbor, Mich.; Robert F. Kohler, a staff executive of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry; and Margaret F. Knight, a delegate from Jenkinsburg, Ga.

Earlier that day, the council delivered another decision. The court said it could not rule on the validity of a vote on legislation that is not reproduced in full in the record before the delegates. General Conference asked the question, but the court declined jurisdiction because a majority of the delegates had not voted for the referral to the council.

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-- Joretta Purdue

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