OKLAHOMA CITY – Bishop Earl Bledsoe of the UMC’s North Texas Conference will be in retired status at the end of August, according to a surprise announcement at the end of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference here late Friday night.
The episcopacy committee decided Tuesday to retire Bishop Bledsoe involuntarily, citing its concerns about his administrative skills and questions about his trustworthiness. The full South Central Jurisdictional Conference, meeting at Cox Convention Center here, approved that decision on Thursday.
But the assumption had been that, under church law, he would remain an active bishop and be assigned an episcopal area to oversee if he filed an appeal of the committee’s decision with the UMC’s Judicial Council.
“That was our original thought,” said Bishop Jim Dorff, president of South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops. “We did further research.”
Bishop Dorff said the interpretation that Bishop Bledsoe will go into retired status even if he does appeal falls under paragraph 407 of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book.
The College of Bishops and episcopacy committee consulted and agreed on that reading of church law, said both Bishop Dorff and committee chair Don House.
Bishop Bledsoe has vigorously defended his character and his work in the North Texas Conference. He has said he and his wife, Leslie, are praying about whether to appeal the episcopacy committee’s decision to retire him. He did not appear to be in the plenary hall when the announcement about his going into retired status, even if he does appeal, was made.
He had said as late as Thursday that he was available for assignment. As the episcopal committee met Friday to make assignments, speculation was rampant in the halls about where Bishop Bledsoe might be placed.
The College of Bishops has filed its own petition with the Judicial Council, asking for clarity on the portion of the Book of Discipline the episcopacy committee used to retire Bishop Bledsoe.
Bishop Bledsoe remains in charge of the North Texas Conference through the end of August, which is when the episcopacy committee set the beginning of his involuntary retirement, Mr. House said.
Delegates to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference approved episcopal assignments Friday night, including newly elected Bishop Mike McKee to the North Texas Conference, newly elected Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey to the Louisiana Conference and newly elected Bishop Gary Mueller to the Arkansas Conference.
The Northwest Texas/New Mexico Episcopal Area was left open, but the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops has recommended to the Council of Bishops that Bishops Dan Solomon and William Hutchinson be co-leaders of the area on an interim basis.
Bishop Solomon, who is retired (and serves as bishop-in-residence at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas), would have main responsibility for Northwest Texas. Bishop Hutchinson, who is this summer retiring to New Mexico after leading the Louisiana Conference, would take the lead with New Mexico.
The executive committee of the Council of Bishops is expected to act on the recommendation sooon.
Here’s a list of South Jurisdictional Conference episcopal assignments, effective Sept. 1:
- Newly elected Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana
- Newly elected Bishop Gary Mueller, Arkansas
- Newly elected Bishop Mike McKee, North Texas
- Bishop Janice Huie, Texas
- Bishop Robert Hayes, Oklahoma
- Bishop Mike Lowry, Central Texas
- Bishop Jim Dorff, San Antonio Episcopal Area
- Bishop Scott Jones, Great Plains
- Bishop Robert Schnase, Missouri
- Northwest Texas/New Mexico remains open.
The new bishops are filling vacancies. The others are continuing their prior appointments.