Pastoral Letter

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As many of you are aware, I was asked for a decision of law at the last  meeting of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference. I rendered an opinion that the question asked of me was hypothetical and moot. The Judicial Council of the Church disagreed. The Council then referred the original question back to me for response. 

The question asked of me is technical in nature. It has to do with how the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and the District Committee on Ministry are to function. As Bishop I have a responsibility to apply the procedures of the Book of Discipline as I understand them. It is our book of order. 

The Church gives the final authority in this matter to the Judicial Council. The Council is a group of representative persons from across the church elected by the General Conference. Their decision is final. They will be reviewing my ruling at their meeting in April. 

It is important to remember that the Bishop has no voice or vote in deliberations and actions regarding the preparedness of persons for licensed or ordained ministry. These matters are reserved exclusively to clergy and lay members of the conference elected to this responsibility. The Bishop and Cabinet deploy persons for ministry. The Board of Ordained Ministry examines, assesses, and may recommend qualified and called persons to the Clergy Session of the Conference for election or approval.  

The Discipline outlines a very specific process by which these decisions are to be made. It is to these processes that my ruling refers. It makes no judgment of readiness for ministry, but rather, to the appropriateness of the procedure followed. 

May God bless us all as we seek to be faithful in these and all things. My ruling is below.

RULING OF LAW TO THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL
OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH


In Decision 1244 the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church reversed my ruling that the request for a Ruling of Law presented to me by Rev. John Elford was moot and hypothetical and therefore not a proper question of law.   The matter was remanded to me for an opinion within 60 days. The copy of the Decision forwarded to me was dated October 26, 2013.

The question asked of me by Rev. Elford was:

          "In response to the Southwest Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry's decision to remove Mary Ann Kaiser from the Candidacy process at their June 6, 2013 meeting, 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 the Board of Ordained Ministry?"

Decision of Law

          It is the responsibility of the Board of Ordained Ministry to examine and interview all candidates recommended to it by a District Committee on Ordained Ministry (Par. 635.2h, 635.2j, and 324.11).  The Austin District Committee recommended the candidate (Par. 324.10).  In this case, the responsibility for full examination by the Board of Ordained Ministry was not carried out. Therefore, the action of the Board in effectively discontinuing the candidacy of Mary Ann Kaiser was not appropriate according to the Discipline and is of no effect. Since the action of the Clergy Session was to uphold the action of the Board of Ordained Ministry, and the action of the Board of Ordained Ministry was not in keeping with the Discipline, I rule that Ms. Kaiser remains a Candidate for Ministry and is due full examination, including an interview, by the Board of Ordained Ministry.

Review of Context

          The procedural context of this request was as follows:   At its meeting on the morning of June 6, 2013, the Board of Ordained Ministry voted to affirm the action of its Executive Committee, which was to “strike” the name of Mary Ann Kaiser from Page 1, Question 19.a of the report to be presented to the Clergy Session of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference.   The Clergy Session would be meeting the afternoon of June 6.   Ms. Kaiser’s name had been submitted to the Board for inclusion in Question 19.a by the Austin District Committee on Ministry.   The Board made its decision based on ¶¶304.3, 666, and Judicial Council Decision 844.   This action to remove Ms. Kaiser’s name was reported to the Clergy Session by the Chairperson of the Board of Ordained Ministry.   Rev. John Elford, Elder in the Southwest Texas Conference, moved during the Clergy Session that her name be added back to the list of candidates under Question 19.a.   His primary reasoning supporting his objection to her removal focused on concerns that the Board of Ordained Ministry had not interviewed her prior to making their decision ¶¶635.2h & j.   His motion was defeated.   Her name was removed from the list.   Rev. Elford brought his concerns to the Annual Conference Session on June 7, and a written request for a ruling of law was received and voted upon June 8.  

          I initially ruled that the question, as asked, was moot and hypothetical, because it did not relate to a specific action of the Clergy Session of the Annual Conference.   Instead, in my view, it related to an action of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.   However, the Judicial Council reversed my ruling in Decision 1244, stating that my statement about the question of law being an appropriate matter to bring before the Annual Conference was a statement that I “believed that the action taken during the Clergy Session was also a part of the Annual Conference business.”   I did not intend for my statement concerning the propriety of asking for a ruling on a question of law to indicate I believed either that the question was a matter before the Clergy Session or that the question was one that was appropriate.   The question did not relate to any action before the Clergy Session and instead asked a hypothetical question about the actions of a Board of Ordained Ministry.   Nevertheless, because I believe the request does present an important question and I now have the approval of the Judicial Council to respond, the ruling is hereby provided.

Rationale

          Paragraph 314 of the 2012 Book of Discipline (BOD) clearly states that the certification or discontinuance of candidacy resides with the District Committee on Ministry.   Prior to recommendation to the Conference Board, there is no mention of any role of the Board of Ordained Ministry in relation to certification.   Candidacy is a step on the way toward licensed or ordained ministry (Par. 310). In the annual report to the Clergy Session, the candidates approved by the respective districts are listed for information purposes and do not require a vote of approval.

          Paragraph 666.1 states that "the District Committee on Ordained Ministry shall be amenable to the Annual Conference through the Board of Ordained Ministry."  The issue then becomes, how does the Board of Ordained Ministry exercise this role on behalf of the Annual Conference?   It is my opinion the Board must be certain that the District Committees are following the procedures outlined in the BOD regarding the necessary steps in the process of certification for candidacy ¶¶310-314. The Board did not question the process followed by the Austin District Committee on Ministry in certifying Ms. Kaiser.   Instead, the Board's reason for removing her name from the list of certified candidates was based on her responses to questions and statements made during an interview with the Committee, not with the Board.   The Austin District Committee, following BOD processes, certified Ms. Kaiser and recommended her to the Board of Ordained Ministry for Commissioning.   It then became the Board's responsibility to fully examine her fitness for ministry, including written materials and interview as required by Paragraphs 635.2h and 635.2j. This was not done in this case.

          While the BOD does not appear to offer a formal "fair process" avenue for candidates for ministry, it does outline specific steps along the way to licensing or ordination (See BOD Footnotes at pg. 227).   There are judgments made at several points in the process.  Each body, in this case the District Committee and the Board of Ordained Ministry, must follow the procedures as it gathers information upon which to make those judgments.   In this case, the District Committee followed the process for candidacy and rendered a judgment.   The Board of Ordained Ministry rendered a judgment but did not follow the process.   Therefore, the candidate is entitled to full examination by the Board.

          As the District Committee is amenable to the Board, so the Board is amenable to the Clergy Session.   Since the Clergy Session was not aware of this ruling, it is my opinion that its action in supporting the action of the Board was out of order and is of no effect.