By Megan Kilpatrick | Western Jurisdictional Conference Delegate

Friends in Christ,

There has been a lot said about what happened at our Jurisdictional Conference this last week. I wanted to provide some insight into the conference and the process, and how our delegation went about this important work.

Firstly, I want to say two things: there were many wonderfully talented candidates, and each would have made a great Bishop. That having been said, we did not elect Bishop Karen Oliveto just because she is lesbian.

Megan Kilpatrick
Megan Kilpatrick

The number of Bishops in our Jurisdiction is determined in part by the number of church members, not geographical space. We have five Episcopal Areas, several with multiple Annual Conferences. Our Greater Northwest Episcopal area includes the Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences, and the Alaska Conference. Needless to say, Bishop Grant has done quite a bit of traveling this last quadrennium!!

Bishops are elected to a lifetime appointment, but there is a mandatory retirement age for active service.  At the point of their retirement, some choose to go back to leading churches, and some choose to remain involved with the church in other ways. This year the wonderful Bishop Warner Brown of the San Francisco Episcopal Area retired, and we held a special celebration of his awesome leadership and service.

In order to run for Bishop, a clergy person must be an elder in good standing and agree to their nomination. That’s it, and Bishop Karen met those requirements. Some candidates are endorsed by their Annual Conferences. Some are and were nominated from the floor, and the rules allow for nominations to occur at any point in the election process. The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference endorsed the grace-filled Rev. Dr. Lyda Pierce, currently serving as a missionary, and assigned to be the Coordinator of Hispanic Latino Ministries in our conference. I continue to be so proud of all that she brought to the election process and give thanks for her many spiritual gifts.

The election process itself is like a never-ending job interview. Candidates meet with individual delegations as well as different caucus groups. There was also ample time for informal “meet and greets” during our time together. As grueling as it was for our delegation, it was even more so for the candidates! Many of them had brought “support teams” of friends and family, who cared for them in spiritual and more practical ways (making sure they ate, helping them stay on schedule, etc).

We voted with handheld voting machines which helped to ensure the typical confidentiality of the vote. We saved a few trees this way too! We were led in prayer before each vote by one of the Bishops. After the votes were tallied, the results were shown on screen, along with the number of votes cast and the number needed for election. With 100 delegates, the math was pretty easy most of the time. We kept voting until we reached a 2/3 majority, which happened on the 17th ballot. (Apparently the South Central Jurisdiction needed 35 ballots to elect all of their bishops!)

Candidates are free to withdraw at any point in time during the process, most often because they recognize they lack the necessary support.  Each candidate apart from Bishop Oliveto withdrew from the election. In turn, the conference thanked each withdrawing candidate with a standing ovation and lifted them in prayer.  Each candidate that withdrew was graceful, kind, and truly thankful for the experience. Though in the end she was the lone candidate, it is important to note that Bishop Karen led the ballot from the very first round of voting.  She won her election truly fair and square.

Where Bishops are placed to serve is determined by the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee, comprised of two representatives of each Annual Conference. They take into consideration the unique characteristics of each Episcopal Area, individual Bishop preferences, and the gifts of each bishop including any newly elected. Also important to note, a new Bishop does not serve the area they were elected from unless approved by a 2/3 vote of the Episcopal Committee and the jurisdictional conference. Since they could not begin this work until after the election, the Committee had a very late night!

It also meant that the current Bishops find out their assignments with little advance to the rest of us. We are sad to lose Bishop Grant (click here to read his thoughts), even though we know this move will bring him closer to his home and family. We are so excited to welcome Bishop Elaine Stanovsky and her husband as this move brings them closer to family too!

Our PNW delegation has been meeting since our election at Annual Conference 2015. We continued to meet after General Conference, most often by conference call, although we did have some meetings in person. We took very seriously the responsibility we were given. Our goal was to elect the very best candidate, because the new Bishop could very well become our Bishop. We came up with four general questions to ask each candidate, so that we could best compare their responses. Our questions revolved around working with diverse communities, budget management, administrative style in different organizational cultures, and how they have used their leadership gifts to affect change. We also followed up with questions about how they dealt with less successful moments in their ministry, how they each handled stress, and how they would serve our unique Greater Northwest Area. None of these were easy questions! At the beginning of each candidate meeting, we stood to greet them, and at the end, we offered each a prayer of thanks. We met with every single candidate, and each brought something different to these conversations and stretched us to approach the work of God in new and different ways.

I don’t think that people voted to make history; I certainly didn’t.  Even so, the conference also could have potentially made history by electing the first Tongan Bishop or the first active missionary to be elected Bishop. Our delegation set forth to elect the very best candidate, regardless of who they are partnered to. I feel that we accomplished this, guided by a lot of discernment and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Karen is passionate, deeply spiritual, and has fantastic leadership experience. She will do great work in the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area and I hope that she will be warmly welcomed.

So what happens next? It’s hard to say exactly as there is no precedent for Bishop Karen’s election. But, she is a Bishop, and according to our Book of Discipline she has been since her consecration. Though there may be complaint filed, Bishop Oliveto will not be the first Bishop to serve while undergoing a complaint resolution process. I also know that this is going to take some time, and there is still much work to be done, particularly with regards to the Special Commission to address LGBTQIA+ inclusion that is yet to be formed. Bishop Karen and her wife Robin will need our continued support and prayers, as will our fellow Christian siblings in the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Annual Conferences. I celebrate now, but know that now the real work of being church to all begins.


  1. Congratulations to Bishop Oliveto! I am thrilled to see another annual conference walk in Jesus path, and be accepting of all who love God, their neighbors and have graduated seminary, because one’s sexual orientation in no way compromises the competency.
    May you have a successful episcopacy, and a long and happy life with your beloved wife. Congratulations to each of you.

  2. I cannot support this election.

    In my mind, part of the trust we the laity put in our delegates is to act in such a way to strengthen the denomination as a whole as well as to make responsible decisions for our jurisdiction. The election of Rev. Oliveto is neither.

    The denomination just went through a grueling ordeal in Portland and, by God’s grace, patched together a compromise which seeks to find a path forward for all United Methodists. This action by our jurisdiction just made that job infinitely harder.

    There will most likely be charges brought against our jurisdiction and a trial. Additionally, the Commission agreed to at General Conference will be subjected to intense scrutiny instead of being able to work in a thoughtful, prayerful manner. It would not surprise me if the other jurisdictions try to make an example of us.

    I have no doubt that the delegates voted as lead by the Spirit which I’ve thought quite a bit about. Perhaps we’re being lead to split. This issue has consumed so much effort over the past 20 years – effort that could be put to much better use. A split would put the decision back in the hands of local congregations and maybe allow us to do more to reach out to our broken world.

    • You have been avoiding this for over thirty years. It is time fir Soirit tipi break open your increasingly doctrinaire rake book. Let the dead bury their dead and move on. She has been chosen by God and 100% of the delegates,

  3. We recently studied the book Philemon and Paul’s reference that the slave on accepting Jesus Christ becomes a brother rather than a slave. A Brother or Sister in Christ is of more value than a slave in hierarchy. Those of alternate sexual orientation are our Brothers and Sisters as well. Jesus is the model I follow, he excluded no one. This election of Sister Oliveto restores my faith in the Methodist Church.

    • So very beautifully stated, Megan. I am not from your annual conference, I am in the NE Annual Conference. I think, but not sure that my conference will also “disobey” the BoD and follow Jesus, who excluded no one. However, I think that our Bishop Devanhar, must agree to this. It passed in our conference by a wonderful 70%, to accept our alternate sexual oriented sisters and brothers into full inclusion.

      • And consider this. In Mt 23:27 Jesus called the scribes and pharisees “whitewashed tombs.” That would have made me feel pretty excluded. But the really big one is that I can’t remember the names of any women who were included among Jesus’s inner circle known in the Movement as the Twelve. Can you? How’s that for exclusion?

        • Jesus gave women value, which was unheard of in that patriarchal, and male dominated society. We really do not know the REAL names of those whom Jesus consulted, now do we?
          Read a book by Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong entitled Biblical Literalism. You can access this book on the Internet, by typing in John Shelby Spong Biblical Literalism. It is a hour long, followed by 50 minutes of Q&A. It may change your mind on many things.

          • Well, I think we can be as certain as we can about anything in antiquity that Peter, James, and John were named as reported, but beyond that, you’re right–we don’t know the names of any others of the Twelve. But that there were twelve of the Twelve, we can be certain, since both Paul and the author of the book we call John attest to it, and neither had any vested interest in there being such an inner circle. We must be especially skeptical of the name Judas, since that’s a derivation of the name Judah which gives rise to the word Jew. The interest of all the early Movement writers was to blame the Jews for Jesus’s execution. But I think we can be pretty sure the Twelve were all men, which was my whole point.

    • Sorry I addressed my note to Megan, and I should have addressed it to you, Gail. You stated my thoughts, but so much more eloquently. My best wishes to Bishop Oliveto.

      • To add to what I said. I just learned that Bishop Oliveto graduated from The Drew Theological Seminary, the same seminary from which my husband graduated in 1964. It was a progressive seminary then, and I am so grateful that it remains a very progressive seminary. Kudos to Karen Oliveto, and to Drew.

  4. Megan, as far as I know there’s never been a test of this, but I think an elder becomes a bishop upon election, not upon consecration. The Book of Discipline is not specific on this, but if you’ll remember, the practice is for the person elected immediately upon election to be seated among the bishops on the platform, symbolic of the changed status.

  5. I pray that more and more annual conferences will be in non compliance, and accept with full inclusion all, and I do mean all, who love God and their neighbors.
    I see this coming and the regressive UM Churches are losing members, and losing them by the thousands. We must live in the 21st century. Women have equal value, and can make their own choices about their lives and their bodies.
    our LBGTQAI sisters and brothers have value and must be included, fully included, they were born as they are, and did not choose their sexual orientation, any more than I “chose” by short stature, or the color of my eyes.

  6. Lonnie, you might be sure the gender of the apostles, but do we really know? More to my point, have your read of accessed any works by John Shelby Spong? You can see his lectures via the Internet. Especially of interest is his talk on his latest book, “Biblical Literalsm.” The Bible cannot be taken literally. It was written in a different time, a different place, and before so very many of the discoveries since those times.
    The UMC can stay with their BoD, which by the way has been revised numerous times, but they will find that one by one, annual conferences WILL vote to be in “non compliance.” You, have every right to feel and believe as you choose, however, in the not too distant future the more conservative churches in the UMC will continue to lose members.

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