By Vance Morton, Director of CTC Communications & IT
Dr. Tim Bruster, senior pastor at FUMC Fort Worth and the lead clergy delegate from the Central Texas Conference UMC to General Conference 2016, was chosen by the body of General Council to serve as the first alternate to the UMC Judicial Council. In a brief interview, Tim describes what it’s like to be the first alternate — a position he held in the four years previous, the role of the Judicial Council, and why it’s a vital position in the connection:
Nine persons sit on the United Methodist Judicial Council, sometimes referred to as our “Supreme Court.” The Council is at the apex of a carefully detailed chapter on judicial administration in the Book of Discipline.
Both clergy and laity serve on the Judicial Council — four of one, five of the other, alternating every eight years. Members are elected for eight-year terms by General Conference and may not serve on any other United Methodist Board or Agency beyond the Annual Conference. Members are limited to two consecutive terms. The council elects its own president for a four-year term.
The Judicial Council is required to review each decision on a point of law made by a bishop during an annual conference session. Other cases come from lower church courts, or from an official body of the church requesting a declaratory decision as to the legality of a particular action. There usually are several requests during General Conference for declaratory decisions.
The most difficult cases for the court are those involving the life and ministry of the clergy. Legal solutions may be simple, but applying them to specific cases is agonizing.
Decisions are based on the Constitution of The United Methodist Church and on the specific paragraphs of the Book of Discipline cited in a case, but may refer to other relevant paragraphs. Conflicting paragraphs must be resolved before a decision is reached. The Discipline instructs the court not to go “further than is necessary to decide the question of church law involved.”
Although there are sometimes open hearings on issues before the Judicial Council, deliberating sessions of the council are closed. The docket for each session is carried in advance by Interpreter magazine and Newscope, as are digests of decisions. Complete texts of decisions are posted on the official UMC website and printed quadrennially in compiled volumes.