In the morning session of the Annual Conference for Bulgaria and Romania for the United Methodist Church on April 1, 2022, a resolution was presented for consideration. It was submitted by the National Church Council for the Evangelical Methodist Episcopal Church in Bulgaria and the superintendent for Romania. The proposed resolution provided for the Annual Conference to withdraw from the United Methodist Church effective May 1, 2022, and to unite with the Global Methodist Church.
Bishop Patrick Streiff explained to the delegates that there was no basis in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church for this proposal and that the only possibility that is granted for withdrawal is found in ¶ 572. Therefore, the bishop ruled that the proposed resolution was out of order. Pastor Daniel Topalski appealed the decision of the chair and underlined that all such rulings can be challenged by the Annual Conference, which has the right to accept or reject them. Pastor Topalski founded his argument on the established practices of the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church. The appeal was seconded by Pastor Tsvetan Iliev and Pastor Krasimir Madjarov.
Bishop Streiff requested to know on what legal grounds the proposed resolution for withdrawal was being made. Pastor Topalski cited Decision № 1366 of the Judicial Council, which states that an annual conference has a basic right to vote to withdraw from the United Methodist Church. It is true that the General Conference has not defined the procedures and conditions of how such a vote can be exercised but this cannot be an obstacle for the annual conference to not take advantage of this possibility. The grounds for the proposal are found in ¶ 33 of the Constitution of the United Methodist Church and not in ¶ 572.
The bishop explained that the matter was a question of law and as such must be submitted for review by the Judicial Council. Pastor Jessica Morris-Ivanova cited Robert’s Rules of Order, which allow for a conference to challenge such a ruling by the chair. Pastor Topalski continued to challenge the ruling of the bishop until at last a vote was held. The ruling of Bishop Streiff that the resolution was out of order was rejected unanimously by the delegates.
The bishop attempted to close the discussion due to the lack of legal grounds in The Discipline and preclude a vote on the resolution for withdrawal of the Annual Conference. Pastor Topalski explained that the natural consequence of a rejection of the out of order ruling of the chair is the consideration of the merits of the proposed resolution. At that point, the bishop announced that he was ending the debate and withdrew as the chair of the session announcing that the continuation would not be considered a part of the Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Pastor Topalski moved for a suspension of the rules and removal of the presiding bishop until the consideration of the resolution for withdrawal was completed. The motion passed unanimously and Pastor Topalski was chosen as the temporary presiding officer.
Pastor Bedros Altunian and Pastor Margarita Todorova spoke in support of the resolution. Pastor Jessica Morris-Ivanova asked for the Romanian representatives to speak to the proposal. Pastor Rares Calugar and Pastor Cristian Istrate spoke in support of the resolution as did Pastor Nerses Ketikyan, Pastor Krasimir Madjarov and Pastor Tsvetan Iliev. When it came time to vote, the resolution passed with unanimous support by all the delegates.
The resolution stipulates that local churches desiring to remain in the United Methodist Church can announce such a decision within one year dating from May 1, 2022. Pastors, who desire to remain a part of the United Methodist Church, can do the same.
Changes to the bylaws of the Evangelical Methodist Episcopal Church in Bulgaria, which would bring this Bulgarian legal document in line with the resolution, were also discussed. The proposed changes passed unanimously.
After a lunch break, Bishop Streiff continued to preside over the Annual Conference, which according to him could at that point be considered again an active session of the Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Before the closing of the conference on April 2nd, the bishop declared his opinion the Annual Conference of Bulgaria and Romania became an autonomous church on April 1, 2022, as far as the United Methodist Church was concerned. Despite this pronouncement, he read the pastoral appointments for the coming conference year and announced that this would most likely be his last act as bishop with regard to our Annual Conference.
The Bulgarian National Church Council underscores that the resolution did not foresee that the Annual Conference for Bulgaria and Romania would become an autonomous church but instead that it will join the Global Methodist Church on May 1, 2022.