Church leaders have been scrambling since last week in the wake of a decision by the denomination’ top court to reinstate Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe, who was forcibly retired this summer.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, president of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops, said on Monday, Nov. 19, that the hope is to reinstate Bledsoe by January 2013. She said the college of bishops would follow the procedures outlined in Paragraph 407 of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book.
That provision says that in case of a vacancy in the office of bishop, a jurisdiction’s college of bishops can nominate a bishop to fill the vacancy after consultation with the jurisdictional committee on episcopacy and annual conference committees on episcopacy.The full Council of Bishops would have to approve the nominee. Huie, in her statement, said her first step would be to meet with the cabinets and episcopacy committees of the Northwest Texas and New Mexico conferences, which constitute the Northwest Texas/New Mexico Episcopal Area. Retired Bishops Dan Solomon and William Hutchinson have been serving as interim bishops for the episcopal area since September.
The Rev. Jeff Lust, provost and Albuquerque District superintendent in the New Mexico Conference, said Huie has scheduled consultations with Northwest Texas representatives on Dec. 3 and New Mexico representatives on Dec. 4. He said the New Mexico representatives include members of the conference committee on episcopacy, the jurisdictional conference delegates plus alternates, and the extended cabinet.
The Rev. Jimmy Nunn, director of mission and administration for the Northwest Texas Conference, said he can’t speculate on what will be decided.
“I’m not sure speculating on an outcome is helpful, but we will follow the polity (of the denomination),” he said. “And when a bishop is eventually named, we are going to welcome that person into our area.”
Huie’s full statement:
On Friday, November 16, 2012, the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops of the United Methodist Church met to confer regarding the implementation of Decision 1230 of the Judicial Council concerning Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe. In consultation with Dr. Don House, the Chairperson of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy, the College determined that Paragraph 407 of the Book of Discipline was the most appropriate paragraph to put into action.
It was determined that the President of the College of Bishops, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, will visit and consult with the Cabinets and the Committees on Episcopacy of both the Northwest Texas and the New Mexico Conferences as quickly as possible. She will then consult with the full South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy. This is the process outlined in Paragraph 407 of the Discipline regarding assignments between sessions of the jurisdictional conference. The College of Bishops will meet again to recommend the assignment of a bishop. That recommendation must be approved by the Council of Bishops.
Bishop Huie states, “It is the intent of the College of Bishops that these meetings and conferences will be completed so that the new assignment may begin in January, 2013.”