We know the capacity of the human spirit to wander off and lose itself. It happens all the time, resulting in self-destructive behavior, and other-destructive behavior. This week we saw what happens when societal norms seem to give permission for people who have wandered away from basic civil behavior, to speak and act on their hatred. Young women on a train are harassed, and three men who stand to protect them are stabbed, two to death.
I’m Elaine Stanovsky, bishop of the Greater Northwest Area, and speaking on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops today. My colleagues, Robert Hoshibata, Minerva Carcaño and, of course, Karen Oliveto are here today as well.
Friday a gay colleague reminded me that some people are listening for a good word today and may be profoundly discouraged. If you are one of them, hear this affirmation: God “formed [you] in [your] inward parts, knit [you] together in [your] mother’s womb. [You] are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Read Psalm 139. No-one can take that away from you.
Thank you to the Judicial Council for the care with which it has prepared for this day, and for setting an appropriate tone for today’s oral arguments.
Thanks to everyone who came today to support the Western Jurisdiction and Bishop Oliveto as our church continues its journey to live out the Gospel as Jesus intends us to do – by caring for each other, regardless of sexual orientation, as long as we are “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17).
Deep gratitude to Rich Marsh, who so ably argued on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction today, and to Llew Pritchard, his co-counsel. They have represented us well.
As Rich said, we believe the Constitution and the Discipline of our church give the authority to determine eligibility and elect bishops to each jurisdiction and central conference. This exclusive right of jurisdictions has allowed the church to adapt to its ministry context in each region. The variety that results makes it difficult to live together as one church. But it was the key to the healing Methodism’s division over slavery in the 19th century. The autonomy of jurisdictions to elect their own bishops is at the heart of our unity-in-diversity.
Bishop Oliveto – as an elder in good standing – was eligible for election. She was elected on the 17th ballot by 88 out of 100 delegates. We celebrate her election as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the whole Church. Every bishop in the Western Jurisdiction claims Bishop Oliveto as an esteemed colleague. We recognize God at work in her life, in her marriage with Robin, and through her ministry as a bishop.
The Western Jurisdiction is not so different from the rest of The United Methodist Church. We love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We try to follow Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This love is breaking down the dividing walls of prejudice, taboo and fear of LGBTQI people. This love has led many in the West to advocate for full inclusion of LGBTQI people in the membership and ordained ministry of the Church. The Western Jurisdiction has not been guided by a spirit of defiance, but by a spirit of obedient love of God and neighbor. Today we are blessed to have followed where love led.
It was a moving moment earlier, when representatives of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops walked into the meeting room with Bishop Karen, her wife, Robin, and her mother, Nellie. Mrs. Oliveto was the one who fed her daughter’s hunger for a relationship with God. She took her and her sisters to church, to Youth Fellowship, and encouraged young Karen when she began to notice God’s presence calling her to ministry.
For 45 years The United Methodist Church has talked about LGBTQI people, while refusing to hear the voices of the very people who could help the church grow in its love of neighbor. The request before the Judicial Council this morning never named Bishop Oliveto. The arguments were about principle, law, and precedent. Nothing about Karen, her love, call, faith, service, sacrifice, mercy. She sat in silence. It wasn’t about her.
And yet, the very stones would cry out, if we did not let her speak.
I’m going to turn the microphone to Bishop Oliveto now, so we can hear her voice.
After she speaks, we’ll answer your questions, but we are not going to get into great detail about the Judicial Council, or speculation over what the Council may or may not do. We are going to respect this process, and continue to pray for God to lead the Council, and our Church, on the path towards justice, reconciliation, and understanding that in our denomination, all should mean all.
Bishop Karen Oliveto, sister in Christ…
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky Greater Northwest Area
The United Methodist Church
To the people called Methodists within the Greater Northwest Area:
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Risen Savior, Jesus.
I write to keep you informed of an important matter involving the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. It is important to keep you apprised of developments in the questions raised over Bishop Karen Oliveto’s election last July.
Just after she was elected by the Western Jurisdiction Conference, the South Central Jurisdiction asked our denomination’s top court, the Judicial Council, to rule on the validity of her election. The Judicial Council will hear arguments in the matter when it meets in Newark, N.J. on April 25, with a ruling expected within days. This process is outlined in our Book of Discipline.
The bishops of the Western Jurisdiction believe that Bishop Oliveto’s election and assignment to the Mountain Sky Area is valid. It is our prayer that the Judicial Council will confirm this position. Nonetheless, we know there are several potential outcomes. We know the ruling will have implications for the entire denomination, but Bishop Oliveto and the Mountain Sky Area will be affected most.
Accompanying this letter is an information sheet prepared by the Western Jurisdiction. We ask pastors and church leaders to make this letter and the accompanying material available to congregations as soon as possible. After the ruling, we will provide more information and guidance for our churches and leaders.
No matter what the decision is, we know some among us will not agree. Some will feel hurt. Some will feel distanced from the church. That is why we must be in prayer for one another and for our church. We ask you to pray for Bishop Oliveto, the Cabinet and conference leaders of the Mountain Sky Area, members of the Judicial Council, and all who will participate in the hearing on April 25.
We do not believe agreement, even on major issues like this, has ever been a requirement for loving each other and remaining one family in Christ Jesus who, in the week of his death and resurrection, prayed that we may be one. (John 17:21)
Although the Council’s decision could have significant implications on our life together, we have faith that the Resurrection of Jesus is what most determines our future. The United Methodist Church, and its predecessors, have faced many challenges and disagreements in the past and has lived to witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ through our distinctive Wesleyan voice we offer the world. We know God will see us through this time as well.
Yesterday I went to the bank, where my “universal banker” was a young immigrant from Afghanistan. When her father died, her mother was left to raise five daughters in a war-torn nation where women have few economic avenues. Her uncles in America sponsored the family’s migration to the U.S. When I commented that her language skill must be an asset at the bank, I learned that she speaks Farsi, Hindi, Russian and English, and she is working on Spanish. Her face shined as she told me how she loves being able to help other immigrants, who don’t speak English. Her story is a story of hope, despite much travail.
Today is Epiphany, the day we honor the foreign (from the East) wise ones who saw a new star appear in the night sky. Believing it to be a sign of great new hope for the world, they followed the star to Jesus. The local king, Herod, wanted them to tell him where the baby was so he could “eliminate” a potential political rival. But, being wise, they returned home by “another way” to avoid Herod; Mary and Joseph secreted the baby Jesus away to Egypt to protect him from the slaughter of the innocents that was to come. This is how hope came into the world in Jesus.
Every season is a season of uncertainty. As people living in an uncertain world, we have a choice to cower in fear, or to step out in faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). When, day by day, we see the fall of ancient cities, mass migration of refugees, racial tensions and violence, the degradation of the natural environment and depletion of natural resources, it takes faith to live in hope. And yet, this is the special calling of people of faith – to live lives of hope despite all evidence to the contrary.
My word of hope for you today springs from an unseen place, where the Holy Spirit speaks to my spirit: God is at work in our lives and in the wide world, nurturing hope, protecting promises, inspiring courage. We are part of God’s plan and promise for the world. In prayer, listen for the still, small voice, watch for the star that shines in the darkness and let them be your strength. Then, be a keeper, a protector, a reflector of hope against all odds. Find ways to keep hope alive in your home, your heart, in your conversations with the people you meet by chance. Be wise, trust the unseen presence of God, and follow where it leads.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Photo Credit: “Hope” by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0.
Herod did his deed early this year – killing and wounding innocents in Aleppo, Berlin, and Zurich; exacting revenge in Ankara; disrupting the Christmas Market in a city still healing from the wounds of war, and the deep divide of THE WALL.
I know the place where the Berlin attack occurred. It’s a long block from the Hotel Palace, where the Council of Bishops met a year and a half ago. Our gathering opened in an ecumenical worship service at the new Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, dedicated on the third Sunday of Advent, 1961. It shines as a blue beacon of peace in the shadow of the old church, which was built in 1895, bombed in 1943 and 1945, and opened as a peace memorial 1987.
“Joy to the World. . . Let earth receive her king. . .”
Isaac Watts, 1719
On the question of who’s in charge, the Bible is clear. All kinds of foolishness and evil occur in human lives and human history, but God is in charge. The one who finds the lost, forgives sin, makes highways straight, deserts bloom and shines light in the darkness. The way we know that God is in charge, isn’t because everything is fine. Bad stuff happens all the time. We know that God is in charge because the values of peace, justice, kindness are woven into the fabric of our being and an alarm sounds when the ways of the world stray too far from the way of Jesus.
And so we sing JOY! in every season because even in the darkest times, God tugs people to grace and truth, unfailingly, eternally, and will not rest until creation thrives, people enjoy abundant life, and justice is as natural and unstoppable as a river.
There’s a lot of anxiety about the recent presidential election.
The role of fake news in shaping public opinion
The intrusion of Russia into the process
The statements by the FBI director
The role of the electoral college
The depth of dissatisfaction of Americans with government (19% in Nov. 2015)
The depth of distrust in the President-elect (41-48% since election)
Will the president-elect really carry through on all the promises he made
“He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness, and wonders of his love.”
Truth, grace and love find their way through an uncertain time. Sing for JOY!
Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. – Isaiah 43: 19
Watching scenes of Aleppo, a beautiful, ancient city, lying in rubble, with a river of refugees – young, old, burdened, lost – pouring out into the wilderness, the horror passes understanding. It is beyond belief, beyond comprehension. I search for peace to match the horror.
We will never experience peace equal to the horror if we keep tuned to the news. It is people sitting in darkness who can see a great light (Isaiah 9:2). So, turn off the news, not to avoid the harsh realities of war. Turn off the news so you can hear a different word, see a vision of abundant life, and be led along a good way. Participating in worship is a choice to be part of an alternative, intentional community of resistance to sin and death. When God’s people gather where a candle burns and music swells, the rhythm of God’s peace resonates in our hearts and finds expression through our lives and the world is changed. Not in earth-shattering ways, but in life-affirming ways.
Pray for the people of Aleppo, and every place of horror on the earth. Come, Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace. Quell warring madness so that people will no longer be forced from their homes to become strangers wandering the earth. In the meantime, show us how to become community for your lost sheep. We know this is your will. Show us the way. Make us witnesses to the peace that passes understanding.
O great mystery, And wondrous sacrament, That animals should see the newborn Lord, Lying in their manger! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb Was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ.
O Magnum Mysterium, Matins liturgy
Last week I wrote about the star in the Christmas story. Today I’m thinking about the animals around the baby Jesus. Donkey, camel, cow, sheep, dove.
“O Magnum Mysterium,” says that the animals seeing Jesus in their manger was a sacrament! A sacrament is a sign of the presence of God, which is often hidden and spiritual. We say that sacraments are a means of grace. How do the animals fit into our theology, or our spiritual lives? Maybe they call us out of our heads, and into our hearts. Maybe they call us out of human society and into the community of creation? Or, do they draw our attention away from a distant light, shining from heaven, to the warmth and intimacy of earthy, furry, pawing, neighing relationships?
Animals keep it pretty real. The sights and sounds – and smells – of animals are very different from the sterility of the star. Earthy hay, manure, dust, grunts contrasted with heavenly light.
From the moment of his birth, we find Jesus living in two worlds: marked by a star in the night sky, and nestled in a barnyard manger. Fully God, fully human. This is the great mystery (magnum mysterium). Just like Jesus we live in two worlds. Learning to be fully spiritual people and fully flesh and blood at the same time is the challenge and promise Jesus sets before us. Hark, the Angels and the Friendly Beasts.
I’m going to try to honor both this season: to make time for prayer and music that makes my spirits soar. And to decorate our home and cook great food to delight the senses! And I’m going to receive Mollie-the-dog’s grace-filled nuzzle with a reciprocal belly rub. God breaks in from beyond, and sidles up alongside and as common kindness.
It is ours to sing glory to God in heaven, and to make peace on earth.
The Christmas cards I ordered arrived last week. I searched to find cards that showed the nativity with Jesus front and center bearing the message, “Blessed Christmas” embossed in gold.
But something was missing. Roll call: Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, cow, donkey, sheep. No star.
The star of the nativity marks the birth of Jesus as a world-changing God-event. The star is the glory of God shining through from heaven into the dark and harsh reality of the world. Without the star it could be any baby in the manger– oh, miraculous, to be sure, but without the power to heal, release, renew and transform.
So, I bought a shiny pen. And I am painting the star into the midnight sky on every card. The power of God is at work in our world through Jesus, who comes to us as. . .
Light (shining in darkness) | Fire (of the Holy Spirit) Hope (of the world) | (abundant) Life Grace (upon grace) | (steadfast) Love Promise(fulfilled)| Peace (on the earth)
God bless you this Christmas, with light in darkness. And may you be a light to the world and all who live in it.
During the two-year presidential campaign, tension built across our nation like it does as you wind up a jack-in-the-box. Then, SURPRISE, the polls closed and what seemed impossible had happened. Donald Trump was elected the next President of the United States. Half the country is elated beyond their wildest dreams. The other half is reeling in disbelief. Most of us on one side of the divide don’t know many people on the other side.
I’m less interested in what kind of president Donald Trump will be than in his election as a symptom of a grave illness in our nation.
Can it be in 21st century America, that many of us no longer have substantive conversations with anyone who isn’t very much like us in education, income and world view? Have we become separated, red from blue, without even realizing it until this most unexpected election?