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Judicial Council to look at new church structures


Feb. 10, 2010

Bishop Michael Coyner presides over the 2008 Indiana South Annual 
(regional) Conference. A UMNS photo by Indiana UM Communication.
Bishop Michael Coyner presides over the 2008 Indiana South Annual (regional) Conference. A UMNS photo by Indiana UM Communication.

U.S. population shifts, membership declines and economic changes have led to the reorganization of regional United Methodist bodies in recent years.

The challenge for the church’s annual conferences is how to retain the denomination’s connectional relationships and meet mission priorities on a limited budget. The restructuring can also raise questions about whether the changes adhere to church law.

Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, will consider a few of those questions during its April 21-24 spring meeting in Madison, N.J.

Among the nine docket items on the council’s agenda are decisions by Dakotas Area Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey about whether a standing committee on archives and history is required under that conference’s new structure and by Indiana Bishop Michael Coyner on the 2010 budget for the new, unified conference in that state.

Two years ago, the Dakotas Conference set up a reorganizational task force, naming it “Romans 12” after the Bible verse that refers to being transformed “by the renewing of the mind.”

“One of the things they came back with was a completely different structure,” Kiesey explained. “The whole purpose of the Romans 12 document is to focus on … equipping the local church.”

Bishop Deborah Kiesey

The new structure was approved in June. At a special annual conference session in November, some of the pieces were determined, the bishop said.

During the special session, participants spent significant time debating how the changes affect the conference’s committee on archives and history. The Rev. Duane Coates of Brookings First United Methodist Church asked Kiesey for a decision of law on the constitutionality of the new structure in relation to that committee.

Kiesey explained that the function of archives and history is covered under the new structure, but not through a standing committee. Two different paragraphs in the United Methodist Book of Discipline are in conflict over what is required, but the bishop said the conference had followed the most recent change in the Discipline.

“We’re comfortable with whichever way they rule,” she said about a potential Judicial Council decision.

Indiana budget decisions

In Indiana, a new structure has affected the budget for program areas. During the 2009 Indiana Annual Conference in June, a request for a decision of law from the bishop was made about whether proper procedures had been followed in bringing the 2010 budget to the body.

The Indiana Conference is a uniting of the former Indiana North and Indiana South conferences. Although the new body became official in October 2008, two separate budgets and accounts were retained until Dec. 31, 2009. The current year represents the first under a single budget.

A motion was made requesting that the conference’s Council on Finance and Administration restore funding for 2010 in four program areas – young adults, mission, social advocacy and new programs – to 75 percent of the funding those areas received in 2009. Calling it a resolution, not a motion, Coyner ruled it out of order and delegates declined to suspend the rules to consider the resolution.

Dan Gangler, the Indiana Conference communicator, noted that around $3 million had been cut from the combined budgets of the previous conferences, creating a budget of $15.1 million for the first fiscal year of the new annual conference.

Another issue of debate and discussion related to the budget, Gangler said, was the decision to change health care benefits for retired ministers from an insurance plan through the United Methodist Board of Pensions and Health Benefits to a health care subsidy through Medicare. Continuing with the insurance plan would have cost the conference nearly $2 million, he explained. The conference also made deep cuts in support for campus ministry.

In a docket item deferred from the fall meeting, the Judicial Council also will consider a decision of law from Michigan Area Bishop Jonathan Keaton regarding the adoption of a master group program for insuring all churches in the West Michigan Annual Conference.

In other business, the Judicial Council is being asked for a “declaratory decision” by United Methodists in the Philippines related to a church and civil court case there and whether the Philippines Central Conference College of Bishops has the authority to handle a complaint against one of its members.

The docket is available here.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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