The long case involving Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe is nearing its conclusion.
Bledsoe was forcibly retired this summer as the bishop over the Dallas Area before the United Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, ordered his immediate reinstatement.
The South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops — that is, the bishops in the jurisdiction — has recommended Bledsoe to fill the vacancy in the Northwest Texas/New Mexico Episcopal Area, which encompasses the Northwest Texas and New Mexico annual (regional) conferences. The area’s episcopal residence is in Albuquerque, N.M.
The full United Methodist Council of Bishops would have to approve the assignment and is scheduled to vote by email with responses due Thursday, Dec. 20. The college of bishops previously had announced plans to reinstate Bledsoe by January.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, president of the college of bishops and leader of the Texas Conference, said the college of bishops has followed the procedures to fill a vacancy, which is 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.
Bledsoe is no stranger to Northwest Texas. He grew up in the region and previously pastored Wyatt Memorial United Methodist Church in Amarillo.
The college of bishops’ recommendation comes after months of twists and turns many longtime church observers call unprecedented.
Bledsoe, 62, initially announced plans in a June 1 video to retire at the end of his first four years as bishop. But on June 5, he reversed course, telling those at the North Texas Annual Conference session he planned to fight being forced out. Days later, the South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee released a statement to explain why it had asked Bledsoe to retire early. The episcopacy committee said it had questions regarding his administrative skills, relational skills and style.
After a hearing on July 16-17, the episcopacy committee decided by a vote of 24-4, with two abstentions, to place Bledsoe in involuntary retirement. The 30-member committee included a lay and clergy member from each of the jurisdiction’s 15 conferences.
The South Central Jurisdictional Conference delegates on July 19 overwhelmingly affirmed the episcopacy committee’s decision to compel early retirement. The final tally was 208-45.
Paragraph 408.3(a) of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, says that a jurisdictional episcopacy committee, by a two-thirds vote, can place a bishop “in retired relation” if the committee finds it “to be in the best interests of the bishop and/or the Church.”
This marked the first time the provision, which has been in the Book of Discipline in some form since 1972, had ever been publicly used to compel a bishop’s removal as active bishop.
Bledsoe later in July appealed the decision to the Judicial Council.
The Judicial Council did not have the votes at its October session to rule Paragraph 408.3 (a) in violation of the denomination’s constitution. However, in early November, the court ordered his reinstatement, noting “numerous errors in violation of the principles of fair process and the inability to articulate what constitutes ‘best interests of the bishop and/or the Church.’”
Bishop Huie’s full statement is below.
SCJ College of Bishops Recommends the Assignment
of Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe
Monday, December 17, 2012 – Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, President of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops announced today that the process for consultation outlined in Para.407 of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church has been completed. The SCJ College of Bishops has voted to recommend to the Council of Bishops the assignment of Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe to the Northwest Texas/New Mexico Conferences.
The Council of Bishops will be voting on the recommendation by email with a requested response date by December 20, 2012.
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470