After serving eight years as chancellor of the North Texas Annual Conference, attorney John Croft will retire April 1. Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe has worked closely with Croft over the years and praised him and his service to the conference. “His focus and attention to details and the laws of the church and the nation enabled us to better serve the church,” Bishop Bledsoe said. “He will be sorely missed as the conference’s chief lawyer.”
Croft, a native of Jacksonville, Texas, holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was in the top 10 percent of his law class. This former Army captain spent most of his career at the Exxon Corp. As conference chancellor, he represented the College of Bishops, South Central Jurisdiction, before the Judicial Council in the Bush Library Case, Decision No. 1113, in 2009.
Croft served as co-chair of the Building Committee and chairman of the Church Council at Highland Park UMC. He is a member of the executive board of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.
He is married to Kathryn Garlock, and they have three children, Karen, Michael and Allison, and five grandchildren.
In a parting interview with Sheron C. Patterson, UMR editor, he offered a behind-the-scenes look into the world of law and faith.
What does a chancellor do?
In our conference, the chancellor is the legal adviser to the bishop in his official capacity. The duties vary somewhat in the different Annual Conferences. Previous bishops called on the chancellor almost entirely for advice on secular, not church, law. Bishop Bledsoe has sought advice on both church and secular legal matters. He has also asked the chancellor to serve as Annual Conference parliamentarian. That is a good idea, I think, and consistent with the practices of other conferences.
Why does a bishop need a legal adviser?
It is not wise to act as one’s own lawyer, even when you think you know the answer. Of course, when a secular legal matter comes up, particularly a lawsuit or other such claim, a licensed attorney is essential. Both types of matters come up more often than I would wish.
What’s best about the job?
The best part of the job is being helpful to the bishop and other leaders in the conference. I have made some wonderful friendships among the clergy, staff and laity of this conference. It is true that there are no atheists in the foxhole. When serious legal issues have come along, I have worked with some of our very wisest clergy. Lawyers aren’t the most popular of professionals, but they are certainly appreciated when the deputy sheriff shows up at the door with a warrant. I have felt truly appreciated in those foxholes of life. Oh, yes, there have been a warrant or two in the last eight years. I suppose I should mention my two trips to our UM supreme court, one far more successful than the other. But that is how it goes in my profession – you do win some and you are likely to lose some. At Bishop Norris’ request, I represented the entire College of Bishops in what I call the George Bush Library case [a controversy over the site at SMU]. It was one of the most important cases I have ever been involved in. It was a team victory, but it turned out right, I thought. As to the other case [on the organizational structure of the NTC], I still think Bishop Bledsoe was right; unfortunately the Judicial Council didn’t.
What is the hardest part of the job?
The hardest part of the job is when someone violates the trust bestowed in them under the ordination process. Sadly, that does happen from time to time. It is a time when we have to recognize that human sin and error occur among church folk, as well as “out there.”
Any overall reflections on the NTC?
I think the North Texas Conference is the very best, and I am familiar with quite a few.
Any parting wishes?
My parting wish is that my successor enjoys a quiet term. I suppose my other parting wish is that the Jurisdictional Conference recognizes the sterling leadership qualities that I see in Gary Mueller [NTC endorsed candidate for bishop].