Don House, at left, chair of the South Central Jurisdiction's episcopacy committee, talks with Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe during a break in the July 17 hearing in Oklahoma City on whether to compel Bledsoe’s retirement.
The November 10 decision by The United Methodist Church’s top court* to reinstate Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe and reverse his involuntary retirement has church leaders trying to determine what happens next.
“I’m grateful to God for the results,” Bledsoe told United Methodist News Service. He said he and his wife, Leslie, “have dedicated our entire life to the cause of making disciples of Jesus Christ, and whatever the outcome, we were going to continue to do that until the Lord calls us home.” The Episcopal Fund provides for the salary and expenses of active and retired bishops.
However, he added, “We don’t know what the next step is. … As far as where we’ll be assigned, we don’t know.”
He joined other leaders reached by United Methodist News Service in noting the situation is unprecedented.
The United Methodist Judicial Council ruled that Bledsoe, who previously led the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference, “is entitled to an immediate assignment to an episcopal area within the South Central Jurisdiction… .”
The ruling also directed Don House, the chair of the South Central Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy, to report to the Judicial Council on how its order has been carried out by Feb. 17.
Bledsoe said one likely candidate for his next assignment is the New Mexico/Northwest Texas Area, which encompasses two conferences of the same name. Retired Bishops Dan Solomon and William “Bill” Hutchinson serve the area currently as interim episcopal leaders.
The Rev. Jimmy Nunn, director of mission and administration for the Northwest Texas Conference, said in a Nov. 12 statement: “We wish to express gratitude to the members of the Judicial Council for their work. We appreciate the leadership that Bishop Solomon and Bishop Hutchinson have provided the episcopal area, and we will welcome a new bishop when assigned.”
Oklahoma Area Bishop Robert E Hayes Jr., a member of the college and the Council of Bishops secretary, said the college of bishops is trying to schedule a conference call on Nov. 15 or 16 to discuss the situation.
House said Bledsoe is “an upstanding spiritual leader.” What the committee questioned, House said, was the bishop’s administrative skills.
“I hope he surprises us all and becomes a very effective episcopal leader,” House said. “That would be great for him and great for the church. … My hope is in his new assignment he will be very effective. That is my hope and prayer.”
Since his retirement on Aug. 31, Bledsoe said he and his wife have been involved in prison ministry and have been counseling young couples to leave behind simply “living together” for marriage. So far, two of those couples have married. He speaks with gratitude for bishops and other church members who have helped him and his wife make ends meet during this time.
His and his wife’s experience has made an impact on their ministry, he said.
“We’re a lot more sensitive to persons who are hurting and who feel they are shut out or locked out of the church,” he said. “We’ve also learned to trust God in the midst of things.”
— excerpt from an umns story by Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS.
The Episcopal Fund provides for the salary and expenses of active and retired bishops, surviving spouses and the children of deceased bishops. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Episcopal Fund apportionment at 100%.
*The General Administration Fund funds the work of the Judicial Council to adjudicate questions concerning church law.