*[Added material -- At the end of the original message I have pasted a transcript of Bishop Bledsoe's June 1 announcement that he would retire and his June 5th announcement that he would not. I've also pasted the response of Don House, chair of the episcopacy committee. I'll keep posting those kinds of things here but am not going to include any of the news stories because there are just so dang many!]
This is a link to an audio file of Bishop Bledsoe’s announcement, made at the close of yesterday’s North Texas Conference session, that he would not retire after all but would “fight” to stay on. The announcement begins at the 2 minute 40 second mark. (He was waiting to begin until his wife could join him on the platform.)
Bishop Bledsoe’s Announcement
This is sad business all around … for everybody. My response to this is not unlike my response at the close of our United Methodist General Conference. The only good I can see is that it is one of those billboard size reminders that our only real option is to trust utterly in God. God is a master at improvisation; only God would be able to bring something beautiful out of a mess like this.
I join with so many others is praying for the North Texas Conference, for Bishop Bledsoe and his family, for the episcopacy committee, and for our jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.
P.S. To my students at Perkins or anyone else who is still in the process leading toward ordination: Please don’t make any inflammatory comments here … or anywhere else for that matter. Be prudent. If you want more explanation, please see my Facebook page.
P.P.S. To my non-United Methodist friends: Don’t worry. I won’t be posting very many things on UM politics.
Transcript of Bishop Bledsoe’s announcement that he would not retire
Remarks made on June 5 at the close of the North Texas Annual Conference session in Plano, TX
[Transcribers note: Although I have listened to the recording a dozen times or more to make sure this is as close to perfect as possible, there are a few words that were inaudible. I’ve put brackets in spots where I had questions.]
I promised that I would respond to the resolution yesterday. I’m going to respond in this way. Someone – several have asked me what prompted my decision to take early retirement. And I shared with them my decision in terms of the video. But I could not leave this annual conference without at least assuring you [or sharing with you] some of the things that went into that decision.
First of all, a couple of weeks ago I was summoned by the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee and was informed that North Texas did not want us to return back. I felt disappointed. I felt like we had given all of ourselves to the work that is before us. And so, if that was the decision of the North Texas Conference I would abide by that decision. And then I was told that the leadership that I had given in North Texas was so bad that nobody else wanted me within the jurisdiction. And that made me sad as well, because I felt like all the work we had done — sure we made some changes — but I think in the long run it will strengthen the church for the future.
And so with that I mind I asked, “What are my options?” The committee said I could either take voluntary retirement or they would vote involuntary retirement. Now you need to know that all of my ministry, I’ve done effective work. And I don’t feel ashamed over anything that I’ve tried to accomplish in terms of the church. And so Leslie and I have been praying about this. And I am not going out this way.
When I saw the change in our statistical data – the first few years, you know, we kept beating you over the head and telling you how bad things were -
When I see that we’ve [inaudible word or two] increased worship attendance for the second year in a row. We’ve taken in new members, more than we did last year. We’ve paid out apportions higher than we did last year. And we started 16 new congregations within the North Texas Conference. That makes this conference a very, very strong conference. And I feel like I have been an effective leader.
And I don’t know who poisoned the well, but I know that many times when you are a leader, and you do some things that are a little different, it does make some folk upset. But I want to tell you, I want to use Mike Baughman’s language — but I’m not going to use his words.
But I’m not going out like that.
And so, we’ve decided that we’re not going to retire.
Whoever [?] planted those bad weeds among those good seeds, it’s probably going to make some folk upset. But with your help we’re going to fight like the devil to claim the ministry that is here in North Texas. And we ain’t going nowhere unless somebody forces us to go. We’re going to serve Christ, and I believe that God is not through with North Texas yet. But I need your help.
And I promise you that over the next four years you’ll see a church that is exemplified by the love of Jesus Christ. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s not work that cannot be done. With your help and with your prayers and with all of you working at it, we can get it done — not just the clergy, both lay and clergy — not just those who have been in our conference a long time but even our young folk and our youth.
We can work together and accomplish all that God has in store for us. Now that’s my challenge to you. Now you’re going to be sent forth.
(Applause … Whistling … Cheering)
Now I said I wasn’t going to say this, but I’ve got to get it out there. You know, because sometimes things hurt. And whenever we say to each other, “I heard someone say, ‘When are we going to get a white bishop?’” That’s hurtful. Now I understand what people mean. But I’ve been fair to all of you. I don’t play favorites. I do want to expand the table. And I do want more persons to share in leadership, more diverse persons.
But we’ll take it as we are willing to go and as you are wiling to work with me in the annual conference.
I’m going to send you forth.
Bishop Bledsoe closed with a prayer (which was not included in the audio from which the transcript was made) and the conference was adjourned.
Interview released on June 6 by the communications officer for the North Texas Conference and for Bishop Bledsoe and given to the press as follow up to his June 5th statement-
What did you mean by “fight like the devil?”
‘’I mean that I plan to fight the devil to claim the ministry that is alive and vibrant here in North Texas. We have worked hard over the last 4 years and I believe that work is just beginning to bear fruit. To give up the fight and quit in the midst of this, is not who I am as a Christian. North Texas and I started on this journey together to focus on our mission and to realign the conference to accomplish what we believe God is calling us to do. I choose to fight for completing the work.”
Why was your leadership discounted?
“I am not sure, but I found it difficult to believe that all of North Texas believed that way. North Texas is a great conference and has some great churches and people responding to the call to reach people and make a difference. My sense is either the committee only heard from the unhappy and negative voices that presented a chaotic view, or a few persons cut backroom deals to make a change. I don’t know unless those of integrity on the committee come forth to share their story. All of the work is supposed to be done confidentially. All I can say is that there were no formal complaints filed or charges against me. I have served faithfully and lived up to the integrity of the office of bishop. When asked, much of what I get is generalities and opinions.”
What are your hopes for North Texas Annual Conference?
“We will continue to focus on helping our churches become more vital in their witness and outreach, focusing on developing principled Christian leaders who are both young and old and reflective of our mission field today. My hope is that we will continue to create more places for more people to become Disciples of Christ. My hope is that we will continue to focus on ministry with the poor and fighting the killer disease of malaria. These are the programmatic ministry hopes – my greater hope is that through open and transparent trust we will learn how to work together, both lay and clergy. It will require more listening and more honest conversations, but I believe we have taken the first steps over the last four years. Now we are being called to work through the personal issues of relationship. “
What changes are you prepared to make personally?
”I want to have more of an open door process. Sometimes others try and protect the bishop from people and sometimes some try and intervene in addressing issues that should be communicated with the bishop. I have always believed if you want to solve a difference between a person you go directly to that person. If you want to create division or conflict, you tell it to someone else. Some of the issues that have been shared with me have to do with how decisions are made. In addition to the open door policy, I would want to create a bishop’s advisory team who could provide feedback and offer constructive ways of dealing with what may be perceived as contention or concerns. I would want to spend more time in the annual conference rather than going to meetings outside the conference. Trust and confidence take time to build , but can best be enabled by being present with persons over time listening and hearing their concerns.”
Transcript of Bishop Bledsoe’s video announcement of his retirement on June 1, 2012
Dear North Texas Family,
I call you family because I think that’s what we’ve become over the last four years. I want to greet you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I have some very important news about my future as your Bishop and about your future as the North Texas Annual Conference, and I wanted you to hear this news directly from me. I have made the decision to voluntarily retire. This will take effect August 31, 2012. I am retiring because this is where I believe God is leading me and my family. And hopefully Leslie and I plan to relocate close to our families and begin the life of a retired bishop.
These four years in North Texas have had their highs and their lows, but I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey with you. I want to personally say thank you to all of you. Your support, your prayers, your leadership, your work towards building the kingdom of God here in the North Texas Annual Conference has been remarkable. And when I reflect back on my time here with you, I will smile and say “Thank you God for the willingness of the people to risk it all for the cause of Christ and his church.”
We will be gathering for annual conference session in a few days. I’m getting the news out of my retirement out of the way so that we can focus on the work that is ahead of us. Try not to be distracted or worried about the future of the North Texas Annual Conference or about our future, because the God in which we serve is a wise and mighty God and will ensure that a new episcopal leader is sent here. That person will be assigned in July at the Jurisdictional Conference and will assume the office on September 1, 2012. I hope that you will take the time to shake my hand or even give me a hug during annual conference. You mean more to me than you’ll ever know. But until then, I look forward to seeing you in a few days. And may God richly and continue to bless you.
Statement by Don House, chair of the Episcopacy Committee, issued June 8th -
Statement from the Chair: June 8, 2012
The South Central Episcopacy Committee spent many months developing formal evaluation tools for active bishops. As part of that process, the full committee met individually with each active bishop on February 6-7, 2012. Bishop Bledsoe’s schedule conflict at that time resulted in an additional called meeting with him to complete our work. In advance of this full committee meeting, three members of our committee met with him on March 27 to review our materials.
Bishop Bledsoe met with the full committee on May 24. This meeting represented the completion of our evaluation of all active bishops in the jurisdiction. The evaluation of each bishop was extensive, including the use of a variety of metrics.
The results of our evaluation of Bishop Bledsoe were mixed. While having some skills as a spiritual leader, his administrative skills, relational skills, and style remain in question based upon our own evaluation tools and through conversations with North Texas Annual Conference leaders. We discussed these results, reports, issues and specific examples with Bishop Bledsoe.
Following our discussions with Bishop Bledsoe, our committee took a single action—that of requesting Bishop Bledsoe’s retirement effective August 31, 2012. I, along with one additional member of our committee, met with Bishop Bledsoe on May 29 to deliver our committee’s request for an early retirement.
At the end of that meeting, Bishop Bledsoe made his decision to retire early. It was a difficult decision for him and one influenced by additional information presented in the meeting. Our committee had already pledged to schedule a hearing in which a vote would be taken, according to the Book of Discipline, to consider involuntary retirement if he chose not to retire early. Additionally, based upon the written and oral evaluations, we found no members of our committee (who represent all of our Episcopal areas) who felt Bishop Bledsoe would be an effective Episcopal leader in their annual conferences. His decision to choose early retirement was understandable.
In my earlier statements to the press about Bishop Bledsoe’s retirement announcement, I purposely withheld some of the above information. Our committee deemed this information confidential and appropriately felt that withholding such information as confidential would be of personal benefit to Bishop Bledsoe, given his decision to retire early.
On June 1, Bishop Bledsoe released his public statement announcing his early retirement. On June 5, at the end of the meeting of the North Texas Annual Conference, Bishop Bledsoe reversed this decision and discussed specifics of his evaluation.
Our committee has scheduled a hearing on July 10 to consider the question of involuntary retirement.
Donald R. House
South Central Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee
Don House, episcopacy committee chair, elaborates on the evaluation process:
We began with a review of methods of evaluation used in other jurisdictions. We then perfected our own survey instrument which contains two parts: Part A and Part B. Part A seeks general information about the annual conference and episcopal area, along with a few metrics–worship attendance, Sunday school attendance, apportionment payments, and new church starts. Part A can be completed by any of a number of people in the conference office.
Part B is sent to targeted respondents: members of the annual conference episcopacy committee, members of the annual conference delegation to general conference and jurisdictional conference, and members of the conference leadership team (excluding the bishop). Part B begins with specific questions about the individual bishop such as time management, strategies, and other information the respondent might want to share. If then includes a section on Gifts Assessment–a series of 39 characteristics which are scored on a scale of 1 to 5. A final question seeks additional comments from the respondent.
Our committee calculates the average scores among all 39 characteristics for each active bishop. These scores and responses to the open-ended questions form part of our evaluation file.
In addition, a 26-page study of the jurisdiction was completed with specific examinations of each episcopal area. This study included the history of episcopal appointments, historical trends in membership, worship attendance, professions of faith, resident population, membership per capita, Hispanic representation scores, disposable income per resident, local church expenditures per attendee, expenditure elasticities, capital funding, net spending ratios, and the payment of apportionments.
Personal interviews were held with selected church leaders within an episcopal area. Some were conducted by committee members from their own episcopal areas, and others were conducted by committee members from other episcopal areas.
Our committee has met seven times during the quadrennium and is scheduled to meet three more times. We have exchanged hundreds of e-mails and text messages between meetings.
 In a sermon earlier in the conference, Baughman had included a series of sentences beginning with the words “I’ll be dammed..” For example, Baughman said, “I’ll be dammed if I play it safe when God is calling me to work it dangerous. I’ll be dammed if I worry more about upsetting the apple cart than I do about upsetting God….” Note that Baughman used the word “dammed” and not “damned.” Note too that Bishop Bledsoe referred to Baughman’s words but did not quote them.