W. Earl Bledsoe elected a bishop of The United Methodist Church

July 17, 2008

By Linda Green
July 17, 2008 | DALLAS (UMNS)

Bishop-elect W. Earl Bledsoe

The Rev. W. Earl Bledsoe of College Station, Texas, has been elected a bishop by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Bledsoe, 57, an African-American pastor and superintendent of the Bryan/West District in the Texas Conference was elected July 17. He will fill one of the vacancies created in the denomination's South Central College of Bishops by the retirements of two bishops and the death of another.

The new bishops are being elected by 297 delegates attending the conference. Bledsoe will become one of 11 active bishops serving one of the episcopal areas of the 15 annual conferences that make up the eight-state jurisdiction. The South Central Jurisdiction is home to 1.8 million United Methodists in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

A consecration service for the three new bishops will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, July 19, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas.

An episcopal assignment committee is already considering where Bledsoe and the other active bishops in the jurisdiction will serve for the next four years. Their assignments will be effective Sept. 1.

Endorsed by the Texas Annual Conference and Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Bledsoe was elected on the third ballot, receiving 186 of 294 votes cast, with 174 votes needed for election.

While the South Central Jurisdictional Conference is occurring, four other United Methodist jurisdictional conferences are also meeting to elect bishops.

A United Methodist bishop is elected for life and, although eight years is the standard term for a bishop to serve in an episcopal area, it is not unusual for a bishop to be assigned to one area for 12 years for “missional reasons.”

Bishops are charged by the church’s Book of Discipline to "guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine and discipline of the church" and "lead all persons entrusted to their oversight in worship, in the celebration of the sacraments, and in their mission of witness and service in the world." They are also charged "to be prophetic voices and courageous leaders in the cause of justice for all people."

A champion of evangelism and church growth, Bledsoe said his philosophy is that "the church is either growing or dying, and if it is standing still, it is dying." In a briefing after his election, he said the connectional system, the diversity of theological thought and differences of opinion are what he views as hopeful about The United Methodist Church. "We are a church that allows people to develop their faith and grow in their faith experience," he said.

A jurisdictional conference has the following power and duties:

  • To promote the evangelistic, educational, missionary and benevolent interests of the church and to provide for interests and institutions within their boundaries.
  • To elect bishops.
  • To establish and constitute jurisdictional conference boards as auxiliaries to the general boards of the church.
  • To determine the boundaries of annual conferences.
  • To make rules and regulations for the administration of the church's work within the jurisdiction.
  • To appoint a committee on appeals.

The United Methodist Church was created in 1968 by a merger of the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist churches. Methodists elected their bishops at one national gathering until 1940, when the jurisdictional system was instituted. Bishops in the EUB church were elected at one national gathering until 1968.