FLOWER MOUND, Texas—Bishop Earl Bledsoe said goodbye to the North Texas Conference at a reception for him on Aug. 26 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, a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
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 so, citing concerns about his administrative skills and trustworthiness. The full conference affirmed the decision.
Bishop Bledsoe has appealed the unprecedented action to the UMC’s Judicial Council, seeking a return to active status. 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. He’s pastor of Christ’s Foundry, a UM mission church in a heavily Hispanic part of Dallas, and he praised Bishop Bledsoe for offering strong support.
“I thank God for your service to our conference,” he said.
Richard Hearne, lay leader during Bishop Bledsoe’s four years with the conference, said he always felt fully included in decision-making.
“Bishop, you are respected and appreciated by the laity,” Mr. Hearne said.
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 cited him as a longtime 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 and 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. He 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, of the North Texas Conference episcopacy committee, presented Bishop Bledsoe a check for $14,000 in donations from around the conference.
It’s to help the Bledsoes cover expenses as they await the outcome of his appeal. Donations are still coming in, Mr. Smith said.
Bishop Jim Dorff said the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops is helping 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.
The Judicial Council has set Nov. 9-11 as dates for the hearing on Bishop Bledsoe’s appeal.