Bishop Earl Bledsoe said goodbye to the North Texas Conference at a reception for him Sunday that included many hugs and kind words, but also recognition of the pained circumstances of his departure.
“I hold no ill will, no grudges, no nothing – but God’s love for you,” he told a crowd of about 250 at Trietsch Memorial UMC in Flower Mound, Texas.
Bishop Bledsoe led the North Texas Conference for the last four years, but was involuntarily retired at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in July.
The jurisdictional conference’s episcopacy committee voted to do that, citing concerns about his administrative skills and trustworthiness, and the full conference affirmed the decision.
The action was unprecedented, and Bishop Bledsoe has appealed to the UMC’s Judicial Council, seeking a return to active status. He has stated that he does not think race was an issue in the controversy, but he has strongly questioned the fairness of his evaluation by the committee.
In an interview at the reception, he said he had lots more to say about the matter, but had been advised by his attorneys not to comment until after the appeal is heard in November.
The reception featured tributes from a number of speakers, including the Rev. Owen Ross, pastor of Christ’s Foundry, a UM mission church in a heavily Hispanic part of Dallas.
Mr. Ross noted Bishop Bledsoe’s strong support for the church, which recently got the last donation to pay off debt for a new sanctuary.
“I thank God for your service to our conference,” he said.
Richard Hearne was lay leader during Bishop Bledsoe’s four years with the conference, and said he always felt fully included in decision-making.
“Bishop, you are respected and appreciated by the laity,” Mr. Hearne said during remarks at the reception.
The Rev. Jeremiah Booker, pastor of Hamilton Park UMC in Dallas, credited Bishop Bledsoe with moving the conference toward needed organizational change and greater diversity in leadership, and also cited him as a long-time pastoral mentor.
“I know God is not through with him yet,” Dr. Booker told the crowd.
Bishop Bledsoe returned the compliments, saying, “You are a great conference, both lay and clergy.”
But he acknowledged the strained situation. He noted that his wife, Leslie, had chosen not to join him for the reception.
“She’s just not ready to celebrate at this point,” he said.
Bishop Bledsoe said that as he awaits the November hearing, he’s staying active in prison ministries.
“We have so many persons behind bars and so many who have a negative view of the church,” he said.
Bishop Bledsoe added that he and his wife also are providing Christian counseling to couples who are living together but aren’t married or part of a church.
“We married our first couple in May,” he said. “We’re working with another couple that will be married in October.”
Bishop Bledsoe noted that he’s been used to living in parsonages and most recently in an episcopal residence. He said that as he awaits the appeal, he and Mrs. Bledsoe have found short-term residency in the Dallas area as part of a caretaker program for houses that are on the market.
At the reception, Scott Smith, who leads the North Texas Conference episcopacy committee, presented Bishop Bledsoe a check for $14,000 in donations from around the conference.
It’s intended to help the Bledsoes cover living expenses as they await the outcome of his appeal, and donations are still coming in, Mr. Smith said.
Bishop Jim Dorff said the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops has solicited funds for the Bledsoes too.
“We have raised the funds through donations to make certain his salary is paid until his appeal is heard and, if necessary, through the first of the year,” Bishop Dorff, immediate past president of the group, said by phone.