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November 16, 2012

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The Nov. 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.”

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.

The Judicial Council ruling follows the decision this summer by the episcopacy committee, affirmed by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, to compel Bledsoe’s retirement.

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.”

House said he is uncertain who the decision-makers would be in this situation.

“I feel very confident that it is not our committee,” he said. “Our committee merely recommends, and it is the jurisdictional conference that, under normal conditions, makes the assignment.”

He raised the possibility of a special called session of the jurisdictional conference or that the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops (that is, all the bishops in the jurisdiction) could assign Bledsoe.

“What I hope will happen is the college of bishops has that authority and can make that assignment,” House said.

House’s committee is not scheduled to meet again until next February.

College of bishops’ involvement

Houston Area Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, the president of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops, cited in a statement Paragraph 406.1 in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book.

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November 16, 2012

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