Editor's note: This story was updated on Aug. 13.
The United Methodist Judicial Council has announced that it will hold three oral hearings the first day of its Oct. 23-26 meeting in Zurich.
One of the hearings is on a request by the Council of Bishops for the court to rule on whether the proposed legislation for the One Church, Connectional Conference and Traditional plans for the 2019 special General Conference is constitutional.
The Council of Bishops also requested another hearing, which was granted, on a docket item about administrative procedures related to an involuntary change of status for a clergyperson.
The other oral hearing involves a request for a declaratory decision from the Commission on the General Conference related to reserve delegates at General Conference, which is the denomination’s top legislative body.
The announcement about the hearings was made Aug. 9 by the Rev. Lui Tran, secretary of Judicial Council.
The hearings will be at the hotel where the denomination’s top court is meeting — the Placid Hotel at Buckhauserstrasse 36, 8048, in Zurich. The hearings are open to the public and will be livestreamed, but viewing details are not yet available.
The 231-page request from the bishops on legislation for the special General Conference includes the full report from the Commission on a Way Forward as well as 17 petitions related to implementation of the One Church Plan, 14 petitions for implementation of the Connectional Conference Plan and 17 petitions for implementation of the Traditional Plan. The special session of the denomination’s top lawmaking body will be Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.
The bishops appointed the Way Forward Commission to help the denomination find a way through its intensifying debate over how the church ministers with LGBTQ individuals.
The hearing on the matter about General Conference reserve delegates was granted “in consideration of the nature of the matter and the interests of fairness and transparency,” the Judicial Council secretary stated.
The Commission on the General Conference asked for a declaratory decision about the authority of General Conference “to remove, by vote, a delegate of the body for a violation of the rules of ethics as printed and passed in the Plan of Organization and Rules of Order for the General Conference” either when a reserve delegate is available or is not available to be seated.
The second hearing on a request from the Council of Bishops is about procedure related to clergy sessions at annual conference and the administrative right to appeal in matters of involuntary changes in clergy status.
In the rationale, the bishops ask the court to rule that the annual conference clergy session must take action on a recommendation for an involuntary change of status before an appeal is allowed, or at least to not stay any action on a clergy session recommendation “pending the outcome of the appeal.”
Here is the schedule for the Oct. 23 hearings. The listed times are in Central European Summer Time, which is six hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time in the U.S. The hearing for Docket 12, the Commission on the Way Forward report, will be divided into three parts, one part for each plan:
- 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. — Docket No. 1018-12 (Part I: One Church Plan); Petitioner: Council of Bishops, Respondent: the Rev. Tom Berlin
- 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. — Docket No. 1018-12 (Part II: Connectional Conference Plan); Petitioner: Council of Bishops Respondent: Patricia Miller.
- 11 a.m. to noon — Docket No. 1018-12 (Part III: Traditional Plan); Petitioner: Council of Bishops, Respondent: the Rev. Tom Lambrecht
- Noon to 1:30 p.m. — Lunch Break
- 1:30 to 2:40 p.m. — Docket No. 1018-13; Petitioner: Commission on the General Conference, Respondent: Council of Bishops
- 3:10 to 5 p.m. — Docket No. 1018-1; Petitioner: Council of Bishops, Respondents: the Rev. Robert Zilhaver, the Rev. Kimberly Reisman, Steven Lambert
Oral hearing requests for Docket 3, 4 and 9 were denied.
Dockets 3 and 4 were appeals from different parties of a ruling by the North Central Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals about a case involving the Rev. David Meredith, pastor of Clifton United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, who faced complaints of violating church law after marrying Jim Schlachter, his partner of almost 30 years, in 2016.
Docket 9 is a review of a decision of law by the North Texas Conference’s Bishop Michael McKee that a question on a tabled resolution related to the issue of human sexuality was out of order.
The entire docket for the October meeting can be found on the Judicial Council’s website.
Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York.