Bishop Earl Bledsoe, involuntarily retired and then reinstated to active duty by the UMC’s Judicial Council, has been assigned to the Northwest Texas and New Mexico Conferences.
The South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops recently recommended that Bishop Bledsoe oversee the episcopal area encompassing those conferences, meaning he would be based in Albuquerque.
The Council of Bishops made the assignment official in a decision announced Wednesday (Dec. 19).
“The Council of Bishops supports Bishop Bledsoe through our prayers and through the collegial brother- and sisterhood, as he prepares to move to his new episcopal area,” said Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council. “May God bless the ministry of all United Methodists in the Northwest Texas/New Mexico area as they make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Bishop Bledsoe, 62, said he and his wife, Leslie, are excited about the move.
“To a certain extent, it will be like going home,” he said, noting that he grew up in west Texas, and that his late father had a long career as a pastor in the Northwest Texas Conference.
Bishop Bledsoe himself began his ministry in the Northwest Texas Conference, serving as a part-time local pastor at Wyatt Memorial UMC in Amarillo.
Bishop Bledsoe said he and Mrs. Bledsoe are “scrambling” to get ready to move, and hope to relocate by the middle or at least the end of January. The assignment officially begins Jan. 1, he said, and he’s to meet with the staffs of both conferences on Jan. 8.
“Nothing but positive feelings,” he said of his new assignment.
Bishop Bledsoe was elected to the episcopacy in 2008 and assigned to the North Texas Conference.
Just before the conference had its major annual meeting, this past June, he released a video saying he was retiring. Though it’s unusual for a bishop to retire after four years, his tone was genial, and he gave no hint the decision was anything other than voluntary.
But a few days later, at the end of the conference’s meeting, he said the South Central Jurisdictional episcopacy committee was trying to force him out. He said the committee had evaluated him unfairly, and he would fight to remain an active bishop.
The episcopacy committee did indeed vote in July to retire Bishop Bledsoe involuntarily, after a lengthy, closed-doors hearing with him.
The panel’s chairman, Don House, said Bishop Bledsoe had gifts as a spiritual leader but fared far poorer than other bishops of the jurisdiction in an evaluation of administrative skills.
Mr. House said the committee was reluctant to retire Bishop Bledsoe, but felt it was an important accountability move. Given the long decline of the UMC in the United States, ineffective bishops could no longer be kept on, he said.
The Jurisdictional Conference affirmed the committee’s decision amid emotional debate. The involuntary retirement of a UM bishop appeared to have no precedent, church historians said.
Bishop Bledsoe appealed to the Judicial Council, the UMC’s supreme court. After a Nov. 9 hearing, the council ordered him reinstated to active status, citing “numerous errors” in fair process by the committee.
The council also said he must be given an episcopal area to oversee.
Episcopal elections in the South Central Jurisdiction occurred at the same Oklahoma City meeting where Bishop Bledsoe was involuntarily retired. So did assignments of new and returning bishops.
But jurisdiction leaders, apparently anticipating Bishop Bledsoe’s appeal and possible reinstatement, left open the episcopal area consisting of the Northwest Texas and New Mexico Conferences. Two retired bishops have been in charge there on an interim basis in recent months.