Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe has announced his retirement, effective Aug. 31, as leader of the North Texas Conference.
“This is where I believe God is leading me and my family,” he said in a video-taped message.
Bishop Bledsoe, 61, retires after just one term, and with episcopal elections looming this July in the South Central Jurisdiction of the UMC.
In his message, he acknowledged that his four years included “highs and lows” and said he and his wife, Leslie, hope to relocate closer to family.
The North Texas Conference will be in Annual Conference June 3-5, and Bishop Bledsoe said he wanted to make the announcement ahead of the gathering.
“I thought the bishop’s video message was extraordinarily gracious, just as we have come to expect from him,” said the Rev. Don Underwood, pastor of Christ UMC in Plano, Texas. “I know he will be extremely effective in the next chapter of his professional life.”
Bishop Bledsoe and his family experienced the death of his 9-year-old granddaughter, Hannah Moran, in an accident in January.
In the early part of this year he also faced turmoil through the resignation of Tyrone Gordon as pastor of prominent St. Luke “Community” UMC in Dallas, amid accusations of sexual harassment. Two lawsuits against the church and the North Texas Conference ensued.
And in late 2011, the UMC’s Judicial Council found that a restructuring plan for the North Texas Conference implemented by Bishop Bledsoe did not comply fully with church law.
Bishop Bledsoe, who had been a district superintendent in the Texas Conference, oversaw various reorganization efforts in the North Texas Conference, and earlier this year led a delegation to Liberia.
He will remain a UM clergyman, and as a retired bishop will retain the rights that go with that office, said Sheron Patterson, director of communications for the conference. She said he may well be teaching and preaching, and the location of where he and his wife will live is yet to be determined.
Don House chairs the South Central Jursidction Episcopacy Committee, and was asked today about Bishop Bledsoe’s retirement.
Mr. House said, “We scheduled interviews among all active bishops this spring and completed all interviews except for Bishop Bledsoe who had had a conflict with scheduled obligations in Africa. In our follow-up meeting this week, Bishop Bledsoe announced to us that he decided to retire this August.”
Mr. House called Bishop Bledsoe a “treasure” and noted that he was the first-elected bishop in balloting four years ago at Jurisdictional Conference.
“It was Bishop Bledsoe’s own decision to retire—not the decision of our committee,” Mr. House said. “Our members recognized the tragedies he has recently faced—including the untimely death of his granddaughter, the Judicial Council ruling on the structure of the North Texas Annual Conference and the recent lawsuit involving St. Luke `Community’ United Methodist Church. His decision is understandable, given these challenges, but it represents a real loss to the jurisdiction. Our task now is to minimize that loss by keeping him active in ministry to our denomination.”
Mr. House added that Bishop Bledsoe’s retirement means the South Central Jurisdiction will be electing four bishops at its July 18-21 meeting in Oklahoma City, rather than three.
In a press release distributed this afternoon, Bishop Bledsoe said, “The North Texas Annual Conference is a remarkable composite of large, small, urban and rural churches that are open to embracing those around them. I consider myself blessed to lead this group of over 300 churches, its pastors and lay persons.”