The College of Bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction will take the lead in getting Bishop Earl Bledsoe assigned to an episcopal area, and the goal is to have him in place by January.
Bishop Bledsoe recently won an appeal of his involuntary retirement by the South Central Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee.
The jurisdiction has one vacancy, that of the Northwest Texas/New Mexico episcopal area, currently overseen on an interim basis by two retired bishops.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, president of the College of Bishops, did not say in her Monday (Nov. 19) press release that Bishop Bledsoe would be assigned there. But she did say the cabinets and episcopacy committees of the Northwest Texas and New Mexico Conferences would be consulted before the assignment.
Reached by phone Monday, Bishop Bledsoe declined to say if he expects to go to the Northwest Texas/New Mexico area, which has its episcopal residence in Albuquerque.
“The ball is in the hands of the College at this point,” he said.
Bishop Bledsoe did say he and his wife, Leslie, are eager to begin.
“In my opinion the sooner the better, but, with the holidays, I think January is the more practical time,” he said. “We’re ready and prepared to do ministry, wherever that is.”
Bishop Bledsoe, 62, was involuntarily retired last July by the South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee, which concluded he had been ineffective in his four years of leading the North Texas Conference. He disputed the evaluation and appealed to the Judicial Council, the denomination’s high court.
Earlier this month the nine-member council, in a split decision, returned him to active status, saying the jurisdictional committee had committed “numerous errors” of fair process.
The council also said he must be immediately be given an episcopal area to oversee.
The involuntary retirement of Bishop Bledsoe had been unprecedented. Following the Judicial Council’s decision, officials of the South Central Jurisdiction have grappled with the proper way to reassign him under the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book.
The Discipline spells out in paragraph 406 that the jurisdictional episcopacy committee is to recommend where bishops are assigned, with “final action” belonging to the jurisdictional conference.
An assignment of Bishop Bledsoe under that paragraph would seem to have required a special meeting of jurisdictional conference delegates, at a projected cost of $150,000 to $175,000, with no swift resolution and lots of logistical headaches.
But Bishop Huie said the College of Bishops determined on Nov. 16, in consultation with Don House, chair of the jurisdictional episcopacy committee, that Bishop Bledsoe would be assigned under paragraph 407 of the Discipline.
That paragraph deals with filling episcopal vacancies. It allows a College of Bishops, after consultation with jurisdictional and conference episcopacy committees and conference cabinets, to nominate a replacement.
Final approval rests with the Council of Bishops.
A vacancy was created in Northwest Texas/New Mexico when Bishop Max Whitfield retired last summer.
Bishop Huie is scheduled to consult with Northwest Texas Conference officials on Dec. 3 and New Mexico Conference officials on Dec. 4, said the Rev. Jeff Lust, provost and Albuquerque District superintendent for the New Mexico Conference.
After those meetings, the College of Bishops will meet via conference call to consider the question of Bishop Bledsoe’s assignment, Mr. Lust said.
Jon R. Gray, the Kansas City lawyer and former Missouri state court judge who represented Bishop Bledsoe before the Judicial Council, said he pushed for use of paragraph 407 in a conference call on Nov. 13 with Bishop Huie, Mr. House and two other jurisdictional conference leaders.
“I’m pleased and happy to see that they have decided to proceed according to the disciplinary mandates that appear to be applicable in this situation,” said Mr. Gray, a former Judicial Council member.
Asked if he thinks Bishop Bledsoe will end up in Northwest Texas/New Mexico, Mr. Gray said, “It appears most logical, and given that there are no other episcopal vacancies, it appears to be most probable, because 407 applies to those situations where vacancies exist.”
Should Bishop Bledsoe wind up in Northwest Texas/New Mexico, it will be a homecoming of sorts.
He grew up in West Texas, son of a Methodist pastor. The bishop earned his undergraduate degree from West Texas State University in Canyon and began his ministerial career in the Northwest Texas Conference, at Wyatt Memorial United Methodist in Amarillo, where he was a part-time, local pastor.
Here’s the press release from Bishop Huie:
Statement from Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and President of the College of Bishops regarding Decision no. 1230 In Re: Appeal of Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe Challenging the Action of the South Central Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy and the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference
Houston, TX – The Judicial Council Decision No. 1230 clarified Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe’s status as an active bishop of the United Methodist Church. At the same time, the decision raised additional questions regarding procedures for forward movement. Paragraph 406.1 of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church outlines the assignment process for bishops and the role of the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy, as well as, the Jurisdictional Conference itself. The circumstances before us are new ground. All of us in the College of Bishops remain in prayer for Bishop Bledsoe and Leslie, the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy and the South Central Jurisdictional Conference.