How we got here: Looking back at the nine months since Bishop Oliveto’s election

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Bishop Karen Oliveto (center) expressing gratitude during the consecration service held on July 16, 2016 at Paradise Valley UMC in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo by the Rev. David Valera, PNW Conference.

Last updated May 4, 2017; originally posted on April 20, 2017. 

By Patrick Scriven | Director of Communications & Young People’s Ministries

Last week the United Methodist Judicial Council met to consider a petition from the South Central Jurisdiction which questioned the election, consecration and assignment of Bishop Karen Oliveto by the Western Jurisdictional Conference last July (click here for their full docket). Bishop Oliveto has been serving as episcopal leader for the Mountain Sky Area of The United Methodist Church since September of 2016.

A number of Western Jurisdiction leaders were present, and WJ communicators are worked collaboratively with them to keep United Methodists across the jurisdiction informed. This work has continued forward through this week’s Council of Bishops meeting.

Bishop Oliveto and Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, representing the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, held a news conference after the oral arguments at the Judicial Council conclude. Video of this conference is provided below.

When it arrived, the Judicial Council decision was 19 pages long, confusing to many, and contributed additional uncertainty to United Methodists across the theological spectrum.The WJ College of Bishops released a statement responding to the Judicial Council’s decision grounded in the missional realities of the West. Additionally, Rich Marsh, lead counsel for the WJ offered his interpretation of the decision. Both of these items can be found linked below.

Since Bishop Oliveto’s election last July this story has taken a number of twists and turns. As this petition has proceeded toward next week’s hearing, Oliveto has been busily engaged in her episcopal duties serving, and getting to know, the people of the Mountain Sky Area.

For readers who haven’t been following this story that closely, or for those wanting to renew their memories, what follows is a reverse chronological compilation of some of what has come before. It isn’t comprehensive of course, and skews away from commentary both good and bad, but it provides a starting place for those who want to catch up.

What has happened to this point

May 4, 2017 – VIDEO: WJ Bishops offer Pastoral Response to #UMC related to Judicial Council Decision

May 3, 2017 – UMC.org: Commentary: Attorney on confusion over Oliveto’s status
In a commentary on UMC.org, Richard Marsh, who served as counsel for the Western Jurisdiction, argues that early reporting of the highest court’s decision was confused in its proclamation that Bishop Karen Oliveto’s election as unlawful.

April 30, 2017 – UMNS: Ruling greeted with confusion, hope
In an overview by Kathy Gilbert, United Methodists across the connection offer a variety of different, sometimes conflicting, reactions to the ruling of the Judicial Council regarding the election of a Bishop Oliveto.

April 28, 2017 – WJCOB: Statement from the WJ College of Bishops
Bishop Stanovsky released a statement speaking on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops responding to the ruling of the Judicial Council regarding Oliveto’s election as bishop.

April 28, 2017 – UMNS: Consecration of gay bishop against church law
In something like a split-decision, the Judicial Council ruled that “the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law” yet Bishop Oliveto “remains in good standing … until an administrative or judicial process is completed.”

April 27, 2017 – Mountain Sky Area: May we continue to hold each other in love
Bishop Oliveto wrote this letter to the people of the Mountain Sky Area encouraging them to hold each other in love despite differing opinions.

April 25, 2017 – VIDEO: Bishops respond to Judicial Council hearings
Bishops Karen Oliveto and Elaine Stanovsky held a news conference responding to oral hearings of The United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council in Newark, NJ. (Text of Statements | Stanovsky | Oliveto).

April 25, 2017 – WJUMC: WJ makes case that Bishop Oliveto’s election is legal
Denver attorney Richard Marsh, arguing on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction, told The United Methodist Judicial Council that last July’s election of Mountain Sky Area Bishop Karen Oliveto complied with church law.

April 20, 2017 – UMNS: Church braces for ruling on gay bishop
Sam Hodges summarizes how churches are preparing for the Judicial Council’s oral hearing, including statements from Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops, and Bishop Grant Hagiya, president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops.

April 19, 2017 – UMNS: Preview to the legal debate around gay bishop
Heather Hahn summarizes some of the legal arguments going before the Judicial Council next week. Links to the briefs for both petitioner and respondent are included in a sidebar for those who want insight on the key arguments.

April 17, 2017 – WJUMC: Judicial Council Q & A
Leaders in the Western Jurisdiction produced a document entitled “Answering Your Questions About the Challenge to Bishop Oliveto’s Election.” It was first distributed by the Mountain Sky Area and by other WJ Conferences, including the PNW, the following day.

April 7, 2017 – VIDEO: Why we voted for Bishop Oliveto
Three delegates to the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference (Kunle Taiwo, Rev. Kent Ingram, and Emily Allen) tell why they voted for Bishop Oliveto, the first openly lesbian bishop in The United Methodist Church. The video counters the narrative, suggested by some, of an orchestrated plot to elect a gay bishop, pointing instead to a Spirit-filled process.

April 3, 2017 – Mountain Sky Area: Call to Prayer
The Mountain Sky Area was invited to participate in a prayer vigil for the upcoming Judicial Council deliberations. This call to prayer was echoed by a number of other conferences across the Western Jurisdiction including the Greater Northwest.

April 3, 2017 – VIDEO: Bishop Oliveto on Judicial Council Meetings
Bishop Karen Oliveto comments on the upcoming judicial council meeting concerning the legality of her election as bishop. She reminds listeners that despite any uncertainty, God never calls us to do nothing.

March 30, 2017 – Judicial Council hearing scheduled for April 25
In addition to identifying the date for the oral hearing, this media advisory provides some details on the format of those hearings and guidelines for those attending. A UMNS feature published later in the day complemented this release with more context and information on the other docket items.

March 14, 2017 – WJUMC: Karen Oliveto’s election was a movement of the Holy Spirit
Kent Ingram, a pastor from Colorado, and Emily Allen, a lay delegate from California, write this message to the UMC. In it they seek to tell the real story about what happened at last year’s Western Jurisdictional Conference where Karen Oliveto was elected bishop.

Sept. 14, 2016VIDEO: Karen Oliveto: Good Friday in Babylon
United Methodist leaders in the Mountain Sky Area released a video introducing their new bishop, Karen Oliveto, a leader whose ministry is defined by meeting people where they are, introducing them to Christ, and helping them transform their lives (press release).

Sept. 8, 2016 – UMNS: Bishop Oliveto: God has been in control
Kathy Gilbert shares the story of Oliveto’s transition from senior pastor of Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco to her new role as bishop of the Mountain Sky Area with several biographical details included  as well.

Sept. 1, 2016 – Bishop Karen Oliveto’s assignment to serve the Mountain Sky Area officially begins.

August 23, 2016 – UMNS: Bishops respond to gay colleague
Letters and comments from Oliveto’s new episcopal colleagues, many offered to the areas they served, reflect the theological diversity of the global denomination. Heather Hahn provides an overview with links to nine letters from bishops in the U.S.

August 22, 2016UMNS: Top court will take up Oliveto election in spring
It was reported that a petition requesting a declaratory decision on Oliveto’s election would be considered by the Judicial Council but expedited consideration would not be granted.  

July 19, 2016 – WJUMC: Pastors of larger WJ churches offer full support of Bishop Oliveto
Several dozen larger church pastors release a “Statement of Full Support,” an action of solidarity with a fellow pastor of a large UM church. With just under 13k members, Glide Memorial UMC, were Oliveto served, was the 6th largest church by membership in the denomination.

July 18, 2017 – WJUMC: Bishop Oliveto: Crossing The Threshold Together
Shortly following her election, consecration and assignment, Bishop Oliveto wrote this tender letter riffing off the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference’s theme, “Crossing Thresholds.”

July 16, 2016 – UMNS: Married lesbian consecrated United Methodist bishop
Kathy Gilbert files this story on the consecration of Bishop Oliveto from the location of the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. It includes some early responses from UMC Leaders including Council of Bishops President Bruce Ough.

July 16, 2016 – VIDEO: Bishop-elect Karen Oliveto responds to election – The Rev. Dr. Karen P. Oliveto was elected to the episcopacy on the 17th ballot during the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference on July 15. “Today we took a step closer into living into beloved community,” said Oliveto.

July 15, 2016 – WJUMC: Western Jurisdiction Elects Karen Oliveto Bishop
The first public written notice of Bishop Oliveto election effectively locates the occasion in the context of the Western Jurisdiction’s pioneering activity regarding episcopal elections. The WJ is responsible for electing the first Asian-American, African-American, African-American women, Hispanic-American, Japanese-American, and the first Latina bishop for the denomination.

July 13, 2016 – VIDEO: Karen Oliveto episcopal candidacy speech
Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto, one of nine candidates for the episcopacy in the Western Jurisdiction, makes the case for her candidacy before the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference during its plenary session.

June 26, 2016 – CAL-NEV: Oliveto Episcopal Nominee from California-Nevada Conference
The Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto, senior pastor of Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco, is the Episcopal nominee from the California-Nevada Annual Conference to the Western Jurisdiction Conference.

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