Decision of Law and Pastoral Letter
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
At the Southwest Texas Annual Conference Session June 8, 2013, the Rev. John Elford requested that I, as Bishop of the San Antonio Episcopal Area, make a ruling of law. His request was supported by at least one/fifth of the members present at the Session (as required by the Book of Discipline 2012).
It is as follows: "I request a ruling of law as to whether a Board of Ordained Ministry can discontinue the candidacy of a certified candidate for ordained ministry who has been appropriately recommended by a District Committee on Ordained Ministry without an interview and examination by that Board of Ordained Ministry."
My ruling is that the request, as presented, is moot and hypothetical. Therefore, the request is improper and no decision on the substance of the request will be given.
This determination is based on the Rules of Procedure of the Judicial Council. "Questions of law shall be germane to the regular business, consideration, or discussion of the conference session and shall state the connection to a specific action taken, or the question must be raised during the deliberation of a specific issue of a matter upon which the conference takes action." Judicial Council Decisions 33 and 799 uphold these standards.
The question posed has nothing to do with the discussion, consideration, or business of the annual conference. It also raises no issue of any specific matter upon which the conference took action, asking only a hypothetical question. The request raises issues related only to the work of the Board of Ordained Ministry.
This ruling has been forwarded to the Judicial Council of the church for review. They will either affirm this decision or return it to me for further action. The Council’s next meeting is in October. I would expect their review to be on the docket for that session.
I was asked to rule on a specific, procedural question regarding the actions of the Board of Ordained Ministry. My response is specific and procedural. And while the ruling is brief and technical, I am fully aware that the issues surrounding the question and request are complex and profound. However, as Bishop I can only respond to the request that has been placed before me. My response comes after a great deal of prayer, reflection, and consultation.
I am also aware that this decision will disappoint some, confuse some, and seem accurate to some. I so wish I could have made a decision which would please everyone.
The context of this decision has to do with the actions of the Austin District Committee on Ministry, the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and the Executive Session of the Annual Conference. This is in relation to the continuing candidacy and request of Ms. Mary Ann Kaiser for Commissioning and Provisional Membership in the Annual Conference. Per the action of the Executive Session of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference, Ms. Kaiser is not listed as a candidate for ministry and therefore, is not eligible for Commissioning or Provisional Membership.
Persons are presented to me for Commissioning and Ordination upon recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry and election by the Executive Session. It is a great and humbling privilege for me to participate in this process as one who acts on the decision of these bodies on behalf of the Church. Having been through this process, the ultimate outcome of these matters is powerfully spiritual. It is a sacred undertaking.
As I have stated previously, I am grateful to Ms. Mary Ann Kaiser for her willingness to share her gifts with the Church. I am also aware of the many friends and parishioners who faithfully support her request for ordination. Every year decisions are made regarding the eligibility of persons experiencing a call to ordained ministry. When those decisions do not affirm a person’s calling, it is deeply painful. It is painful for the person, for those who love and support him or her and for those making the decision.
In addition, I have come to believe that some persons expected my ruling on this request to somehow change the requirements for ordination in the United Methodist Church. I do not have such authority. The position of the Church cannot be changed by any committee, board, annual conference, or Bishop. Only the General Conference can make such changes. It meets again in 2016.
Each District Committee on Ordained Ministry, the Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, the Annual Conference and the Bishop must administer the requirements of the General Conference as provided for us in the Book of Discipline. We hold each other mutually accountable through the processes outlined in the Book of Discipline. As your Bishop, I will seek to perform my responsibility to uphold the Book of Discipline to the best of my ability as God gives me guidance. I trust that all others in positions of leadership will do the same.
It is my prayer that, as we seek healing and reconciliation for all in this particularly painful experience, we will also prayerfully continue the conversation regarding the underlying issue before us, namely the role of homosexual persons for leadership in the Church. I intend to be a part of that conversation as we move into God’s future.
May the grace and peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with us all.