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Affirmation Affirms Election of First Gay Bishop

The Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto, senior pastor of Glide UMC, was elected bishop at the Western Jurisdiction Conference meeting in Phoenix Friday, July 15. Karen is the first openly lesbian bishop to be elected in the denomination. She was elected on the 17th ballot, after all the other candidates withdrew with inspiring and moving speeches.

Bishop Oiveto has been at Glide for 8 years, after serving Bethany UMC in San Francisco, as campus minister, and as Associate Dean at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. She was married to Robin Ridenour more than two years ago, and has been in the relationship 17 years, after meeting her at a church camp where they were counselors. See below for more details.

She has been assigned to the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area, which includes Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and a bit of Idaho.

The Western Methodist Justice Movement had encouraged Annual Conferences in the Western Jurisdictions to elect a bishop without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity, and then as the Conference got closer, encouraged delegates to the meeting to elect an openly gay or lesbian bishop. Conferences of the West endorsed two persons who were openly lesbian or gay: Frank Wulf, the convenor of WMJM and pastor of Echo Park UMC in Los Angeles, and Karen Oliveto, senior pastor of Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco. In addition, numerous groups around the US, including Reconciling Ministries, Out Clergy, and MFSA groups endorsed David Meredith, pastor of Clifton UMC and Director of Urban Ministry of the Ohio River Valley District of the West Ohio Annual Conference.

Members of WMJM extoll the merits of the smallest Jurisdiction in the US. They point out that the unanimous election of Karen continues a "new normal" that the West has been living into for a long time, stretching back before the statement, "We Will Not Be Silent," in 2000, a statement that publicly challenged the lack of inclusivity of the United Methodist official statements. Also in response to the actions of the General Conference, the Western Jurisdiction adopted a statement to "be a home for all God’s people, gathered around a table of reconciliation and transformation."

The Western Jurisdiction has had as its mantra radical and extravagant hospitality since at least 2008. At the 2016 General Conference, held in Portland, Oregon, more than 60 delegates from outside the United States were welcomed into the homes of United Methodists for dinner, hospitality, and getting acquainted.

The Western Jurisdiction is the most diverse jurisdiction in the denomination. The Jurisdiction spans 9 time zones from the eastern plains of Colorado to the islands of Guam and Saipan, including the states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawai`i.

The election of Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto brings to three the number of female bishops in the five-member College of Bishops in the Jurisdiction. It should be noted, too, that there is no ethnic majority on the College, as well.

As you might guess, much has been written about her election as well as about the three openly Gay or Lesbian clergy who were nominated as candidates in the recent elections at the Jurisdictional Conferences.

More about Rev. Oliveto here and here (PDF).

United Methodist News Service story here and here.

More about David Meredith here and here.

More about Frank Wulf here and here (PDF).

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