Judicial Council Ruling
Response to Decision 1271
July 1, 2015
In my original Decision of Law on March 4, 2014, I stated, "It is my ruling that the organizational plan presented to and adopted as amended by the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Annual Conferences is both Constitutional and in keeping with the 2012 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. Further, it is my ruling that it is specifically in keeping with Paragraphs 604, 610, 611, 635, 636, 637, 639, 640, 647, and 648."
It was further stated in the ruling, "It should be noted that no action was taken by the conferences regarding the adoption of Standing Rules for the purpose of implementing the Plan. Further, no budget was presented or approved for the purpose of funding the adopted Plan."
After the establishment of the Río Texas Annual Conference on January 1, 2015, the adoption of Standing Rules, a budget, and election of leadership at the Annual Conference Sessions in June of 2014 and 2015 and in review of questions raised by the Judicial Council in Decision 1271, I do hereby affirm my Decision of Law that the revised plan of organization as expressed by the actions of the 2015 Annual Conference Session of the Río Texas Annual Conference is in keeping with the Constitution and the Book of Discipline 2012. It is also my opinion that careful attention has been paid to the issue of representation and inclusiveness in the process of electing people to serve in the new structure.
In keeping with the timeline established by the Plan adopted at the sessions of both conferences February 8, 2014, the Río Texas Annual Conference was established January 1, 2015. The establishment of the new annual conference was approved by the Judicial Council in Decision 1271.
At the conclusion of the February 8, 2014 Southwest Texas Called Session of the Annual Conference, I was requested to offer a Decision of Law (copy attached). The request was in order. I submitted my ruling to the Judicial Council for review on March 4, 2014 (complete ruling attached).
The Judicial Council offered its Decision 1271 October 25, 2014. It stated in part, "The Rio Texas Annual Conference is permitted to use the Unification Plan as a provisional structure while they care for the matters that have been identified....The Judicial Council defers any further ruling on the Bishop's Decision of Law pending the outcome of Judicial Council review of the requested report and the Bishop's further ruling of law on the original questions asked during the February 8, 2014 sessions of the two annual conferences."
At the sessions of the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Annual Conferences in June 2014, Standing Rules were adopted, a budget for 2015 approved and leaders elected for service beginning January 1, 2015 for the Río Texas Annual Conference. In light of further refinement of the organizational plan and the issues raised by Decision 1271, from June 12-14, 2015, the first session of the Rio Texas Annual Conference included the approval of a more detailed budget, revised Standing Rules and some further election of leadership.
The actions taken are attached, including the list of leaders elected in June 2014 since the majority of persons were elected at that annual conference session.
The Plan of Organization approved by both annual conferences February 8, 2014 was intended to serve as a "road map" for the new Río Texas Annual Conference. It was to give both annual conferences the conceptual framework for the life, mission and ministry of the unified annual conference. As such, the Plan was received and almost unanimously approved by both annual conferences for implementation beginning January 1, 2015.
Great care was taken to begin the implementation process at the June 2014 sessions of both annual conferences. A common budget was approved, leaders elected and Standing Rules adopted by both conferences. The new Río Texas Annual Conference could now proceed effective January 1, 2015.
In October, 2014 the Judicial Council in Decision 1271 raised questions of concern and clarification regarding the Plan, while giving provisional approval to move forward. These matters were taken quite seriously by all affected conference agencies. A review of the Plan and subsequent review of the Standing Rules was initiated. In addition, the newly-created Finance Table reviewed the budget to be presented to the 2015 conference session in order to make certain appropriate agencies had funding for 2016. The Nominations Committee reviewed the make-up of the leadership elected in 2014 to make certain appropriate diversity was reflected.
Attached as Report I, Chairperson's Report from the Standing Rules Committee, you can see the nature of changes offered by the Committee in response to Decision 1271. Attached Report II was presented by the Standing Rules Committee for adoption by the Annual Conference session June 12, 2015. It was adopted (minutes attached).
Included in Report II are the Standing Rules adopted in June of 2014. Changes in June 2015 reflect the attempt by the Committee to provide specificity and correction regarding issues raised in Decision 1271 which had not been addressed in the previously-adopted Standing Rules.
In addition to the matters addressed in Report I, the role of the Partnering Elder is addressed in Rule 15.b. The Board of Laity is addressed in Rule 4.c. The Boards and Commissions are found in 2.a-e, 3.a-j, 4.a-c, 5.a-e, 6.a-i, and 7. The Role of the Vision Teams is addressed in general in Rule 1, and more specifically in Rules 2-5. The Role of the Mission Field Advocate is defined in Rule 1.a. The relationship of the Centers to the Vision Teams and the Uniting Table is found in Rules 15-16.
A statement from the Executive Director of the Mission Vitality Center is attached. This statement provides further clarification of the roles of persons elected to the boards and agencies, age-level ministries, and the Vision Teams.
It is my view that the issues raised by the Judicial Council in Decision 1271 have been cared for in a manner which is consistent with the Book of Discipline 2012. The Río Texas Annual Conference is appreciative of the concerns raised in the Decision and has been strengthened through the process of response.
Bishop James E. Dorff
San Antonio Episcopal Area