An evaluation of Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe led the South Central Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee to ask that he retire voluntarily and to promise a vote on involuntary retirement if he didn’t go on his own, the committee chair said in a statement Friday.
“The results of our evaluation of Bishop Bledsoe were mixed. While having some skills as a spiritual leader, his administrative skills, relational skills, and style remain in question based upon our own evaluation tools and through conversations with North Texas Annual Conference leaders,” Don House said in the statement, released this afternoon.
The committee concluded that reassigning Bishop Bledsoe was not an acceptable option.
“Additionally, based upon the written and oral evaluations, we found no members of our committee (who represent all of our Episcopal areas) who felt Bishop Bledsoe would be an effective Episcopal leader in their annual conferences,” he said in the statement.
Bishop Bledsoe announced June 1 in a videotape that he would retire voluntarily as leader of the North Texas Conference. He offered no real explanation, and the decision surprised many, given that he’s 61 and just finishing his first term as bishop. The announcement came two days before annual conference, and a few weeks before episcopal elections in the South Central Jurisdiction.
Black caucuses within the North Texas Conference introduced a resolution at annual conference, asking Bishop Bledsoe to reconsider. Some leaders hinted that they thought he must have been pushed to make the move.
On June 5, at the very end of annual conference, he stunned many of the assembled clergy and lay leaders by saying he had changed his mind and would “fight like the devil” to remain.
Bishop Bledsoe said he had been told by the committee that he was not welcomed back as leader of the North Texas Conference, and had also been told that no other conference or episcopal area would take him. That led to his decision to retire voluntarily.
But he said that after praying about the matter with his wife, Leslie, and seeing a positive statistical report on the conference, he decided to reverse course and fight for his job. He also introduced the issue of race, saying he had heard that someone had asked “When are we going to get a white bishop?”
Mr. House’s statement confirms the basics of Bishop Bledsoe’s account of the committee’s actions, but fills in details.
The statement says Bishop Bledsoe, due to a schedule conflict, missed the committee’s Feb. 6-7 meeting in which it met individually with active bishops. Three members of the committee met with him to review evaluation materials on March 27, and the full committee met with him on May 24.
“Following our discussions with Bishop Bledsoe, our committee took a single action – that of requesting Bishop Bledsoe’s retirement effective Aug. 31, 2012,” Mr. House said in the statement. “I, along with one additional member of our committee, met with Bishop Bledsoe on May 29 to deliver our committee’s request for an early retirement.”
Mr. House said in the statement that Bishop Bledsoe decided by the end of that May 29 meeting to retire early, and was influenced by learning that the committee was prepared to vote on involuntary retirement and that no committee member felt he was a good fit for reassignment to his or her area.
“Our committee deemed this information confidential and appropriately felt that withholding such information as confidential would be of personal benefit to Bishop Bledsoe, given his decision to retire early,” Mr. House said in the statement.
The committee has scheduled a July 16 meeting to consider involuntary retirement for Bishop Bledsoe. He has indicated he would appeal an involuntary retirement vote to the denomination’s Judicial Council.
Bishop Bledsoe could not be reached for comment on Mr. House’s statement.
In an email interview late today, Mr. House offered details of the evaluation process.
He said the committee studied how other jurisdictions evaluate bishops and then “perfected our own survey instrument.” That, he said, consisted of Part A, dealing with conference metrics such as worship attendance, Sunday school attendance, apportionment payments and new church starts, and Part B, drawing on comments from “targeted respondents.”
Those included members of the annual conference episcopacy committee, of the annual conference delegation to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference, and of the conference leadership team, excluding the bishop.
The survey asked about such areas as time management and “strategies,” and included a “gifts assessment” in which respondents rated the bishops on 39 characteristics, on a scale of 1 to 5. Respondents were also asked for comments.
Mr. House said the process included interviews with select church leaders, as well as a 26-page study of the episcopal area in question, covering a range of demographic and financial information.
Bishop Bledsoe, in announcing he would try to stay as an active bishop, noted that the North Texas Conference saw a second straight year of increased average worship attendance, a bump up in new members, and an improved percentage of churches paying full apportionments.
The South Central Jurisdiction is due to elect and assign bishops during Jurisdictional Conference, which occurs July 18-21 in Oklahoma City.
United Methodist News Service reported that if the jurisdictional episcopacy committee votes involuntary retirement for Bishop Bledsoe, and he does indeed appeal, he’ll remain the North Texas Conference leader until the Judicial Council rules.
If he loses the appeal, the Council of Bishops could fill the vacancy with a retired bishop or the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops could call a special session of the jurisdictional conference to elect a replacement, UMNS said.
Here’s the full statement Mr. House released today:
Statement from the Chair: June 8, 2012
The South Central Episcopacy Committee spent many months developing formal evaluation tools for active bishops. As part of that process, the full committee met individually with each active bishop on February 6-7, 2012. Bishop Bledsoe’s schedule conflict at that time resulted in an additional called meeting with him to complete our work. In advance of this full committee meeting, three members of our committee met with him on March 27 to review our materials.
Bishop Bledsoe met with the full committee on May 24. This meeting represented the completion of our evaluation of all active bishops in the jurisdiction. The evaluation of each bishop was extensive, including the use of a variety of metrics.
The results of our evaluation of Bishop Bledsoe were mixed. While having some skills as a spiritual leader, his administrative skills, relational skills, and style remain in question based upon our own evaluation tools and through conversations with North Texas Annual Conference leaders. We discussed these results, reports, issues and specific examples with Bishop Bledsoe.
Following our discussions with Bishop Bledsoe, our committee took a single action—that of requesting Bishop Bledsoe’s retirement effective August 31, 2012. I, along with one additional member of our committee, met with Bishop Bledsoe on May 29 to deliver our committee’s request for an early retirement.
At the end of that meeting, Bishop Bledsoe made his decision to retire early. It was a difficult decision for him and one influenced by additional information presented in the meeting. Our committee had already pledged to schedule a hearing in which a vote would be taken, according to the Book of Discipline, to consider involuntary retirement if he chose not to retire early. Additionally, based upon the written and oral evaluations, we found no members of our committee (who represent all of our Episcopal areas) who felt Bishop Bledsoe would be an effective Episcopal leader in their annual conferences. His decision to choose early retirement was understandable.
In my earlier statements to the press about Bishop Bledsoe’s retirement announcement, I purposely withheld some of the above information. Our committee deemed this information confidential and appropriately felt that withholding such information as confidential would be of personal benefit to Bishop Bledsoe, given his decision to retire early.
On June 1, Bishop Bledsoe released his public statement announcing his early retirement. On June 5, at the end of the meeting of the North Texas Annual Conference, Bishop Bledsoe reversed this decision and discussed specifics of his evaluation.
Our committee has scheduled a hearing on July 10 to consider the question of involuntary retirement.
Donald R. House
South Central Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee