Bishop Elaine J.W. Stanovsky sent a letter on Monday to Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski thanking her for her recent vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Referencing the United Methodist belief that health care be understood as a basic human right as found in our Social Principles, the bishop encouraged the senator to continue to work with other members of Congress “to find a solution to the very complex problem of providing health care … for all the citizens in our United States.”
In a July 6 letter to the Claremont School of Theology community, and subsequent press releases from Claremont School of Theology (CST) and Willamette University, it was announced the schools have entered preliminary conversations on the possibility of housing Claremont School of Theology, one of 13 United Methodist Seminaries, within the campus of United Methodist-related, Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.
In June, Claremont President Jeffery Kuan announced the school was facing serious financial difficulties. The school website indicated that without an infusion of $50-90 million, remaining on the current campus in Claremont, California will be cost prohibitive. Kuan cited campus maintenance costs and the rising cost of higher education as key reasons to seek a new direction and embed within another institution.
“Willamette and CST are both excellent schools with much in common – a focus on quality, and a mission to educate students and prepare them for lives that contribute to and transform their communities,” said Steve Thorsett, President of Willamette University. “Embedding CST at Willamette is an exciting opportunity to bring CST’s progressive approach to theological education to the Northwest, strengthen both institutions and support Willamette’s role as a liberal arts university with strong graduate programs.”
The proposed partnership offers opportunities for dual degree and co-curricular programs as well as expanded course opportunities for undergraduates. Both institutions cite shared values of diversity, Methodist heritage and academic excellence as key values. For CST, the move would provide financial stability in a time when it is experiencing increasing graduation rates.
Greater Northwest Area Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky has been kept informed of the process by Presidents Kuan and Thorsett. “Claremont School of Theology is a vital, generative center of thought, faith and innovation”, she said in response to the announcement. “It pushes the boundaries of inclusive community in every way. If the proposed move proves to be feasible, the Greater Northwest Area would welcome CST into the ‘neighborhood’ and eagerly explore the many ways the United Methodist conferences and the school can benefit from and enrich one another.”
No specific timeline has been set for completion of the due diligence process and possible relocation. Kuan shares that “Any full-time student who begins a program in Fall 2017 should be able to finish coursework in Claremont, California.” CST will retain its name in any embedded relationship, and may continue some type of presence in Southern California in addition to its existing online programs.
Claremont School of Theology has been in the city of Claremont since 1957. Prior to that it was located at the then Methodist-related University of Southern California in Los Angeles. It was originally founded in 1885 as the Maclay College of Theology in San Fernando, California. Claremont School of Theology is fully recognized and approved as one of thirteen University Senate-Approved theological schools of The United Methodist Church, with close relationships with other Protestant denominations, especially the Disciples of Christ, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
What would become Willamette University was founded in 1842 by Methodist missionaries as the Oregon Institute, a school for children of missionaries and settlers. In 1849, the first meeting of the Oregon-California Conference, held at the Institute, officially recognized it as a Methodist school. In 1853, it was chartered by the Oregon Territorial Legislature. The University housed the Kimball School of Theology from 1906 to 1930. Willamette was also a partner in the Northwest House of Theological Studies (NHTS) formed in 1998 by the Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences and housed at First United Methodist Church in Salem. Claremont School of Theology and Methodist Theological School in Ohio provided faculty and accreditation for NHTS which closed in 2010.
If the partnership moves forward, CST will join two existing graduate offerings at Willamette: the Atkinson School of Management and the Willamette Law School.
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.
Bishop Elaine J.W. Stanovsky is pleased to announce the hiring of the Rachel Fitzgerald as administrative assistant for the episcopal office of The Greater Northwest Area, effective May 8, 2017. Working out of Des Moines, Washington, Fitzgerald will provide administrative leadership for the episcopal office as it coordinates the mission, ministries, and leadership resources of The United Methodist Church across the area.
“Rachel’s kind and steady approach to work and human relationships will serve us well,” said Bishop Stanovsky. “She enjoys people, has a high ethic of confidentiality, and believes in the mission of the Church as it finds expression in the Greater Northwest.
Fitzgerald currently supports the ministries of Mason United Methodist Church in Tacoma, Washington as Office/Project Manager and Media Specialist. She also works part-time providing office support at the Annie Wright Day School. She brings a wealth of experience in administrative duties and technical capability with her to the position. Thirty years of involvement with the theatrical arts in a variety of roles have helped Rachel to value adaptability and lifelong learning.
The Greater Northwest Area provides leadership for the Alaska United Methodist Conference, and the Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences. The Greater Northwest is the largest geographic episcopal area in the United States serving United Methodists in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and small parts of Montana and Canada as well.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky, spokesperson for the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops
April 28, 2017
The Judicial Council ruled today on challenges to the election of an out gay bishop in The United Methodist Church. The ruling is long and complicated, reinforcing the reality that the church is not of one mind about inclusion of LGBTQI people and sexual practices outside heterosexual marriage. We thank the Judicial Council for allowing the Commission on A Way Forward to do its work. We have said from the beginning that we trust the commission to find new ways for United Methodists of varying perspective to live and serve God together.
Karen Oliveto, is still a bishop of The United Methodist Church, assigned to the Mountain Sky Area, with all the rights, privileges, responsibilities and protections that every clergy person enjoys. The decision refuted the claim that bishops have the right and responsibility to declare a candidate for election as a bishop ineligible without due process.
On the other hand, the Judicial Council expanded the definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” making it clear that the church is still not open to full LGBTQI inclusion.
While the Judicial Council ordered a review of Bishop Oliveto’s qualifications for ministry, the Western Jurisdiction is already in the process of responding to complaints that were filed after her election. This process will continue according to the provisions of our Book of Discipline.
We will have more to say about this ruling as the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops gathers this week during the Council of Bishops meeting. We will be in prayer, conversation, and consultation with leaders of the Western Jurisdiction and the Council of Bishops.
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.
Later this month, the United Methodist Judicial Council will gather to consider a question related to last July’s election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, who was assigned by our Western Jurisdiction to serve the Mountain Sky Area. The conferences of that Area are holding a prayer vigil between April 23 and 30 and we are writing you today, that you might consider adding your prayers to theirs.
The Western Jurisdiction’s election of the church’s first openly lesbian bishop has created a sense of uncertainty for some people across our United Methodist connection. The apostle Paul addresses such feelings in his letter to the emerging early church at Phillipi, writing in the fourth chapter:
“Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” – CEB
It is with this attitude of prayer that the jurisdiction’s delegates undertook the election of Bishop Oliveto. Should we not continue to pray with the same perspective trusting that God hears us, loves us, and heals our wounds?
Western Jurisdiction delegates believe something sacred took place in Scottsdale, Ariz., as they responded to the movement of the Holy Spirit and elected Bishop Karen Oliveto. The video that accompanies this letter (LINK) shares the thoughts of several. They understand the burden of their decision within the church they love, and pray for God to lead us into a unity that includes all of our Lord’s children.
The core questions before the Judicial Council focus on the actions of the delegates and the bishops that laid hands on Bishop Oliveto to consecrate her. The Western Jurisdiction’s response, grounded in church law and precedence, strongly affirms the vote and the bishop’s consecration.
The Judicial Council will conduct their oral hearing on the election of Bishop Oliveto on Tuesday, April 25 starting at 6:00 a.m. Pacific, lasting approximately three hours. The hearing will be open to the public but no live broadcasts or recordings will be allowed. Attendees will be prohibited from posting to social media or text during the hearing. While some reporting might be expected later that day, a decision is not expected until the full meeting of the Judicial Council concludes at noon (9:00 a.m. Pacific) on Friday, April 28.
Our Bishop, Elaine Stanovsky, will be present at the Judicial Council on April 25, to support Bishop Oliveto and as a member the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops.
We share these details with you as they provide a good time of focus for our prayer. The following Prayer Template from the Mountain Sky Vigil is being offered to people across the Jurisdiction as one possible way to construct prayer time. Feel free to adapt it for yourself, your local congregation, or group.
5 minutes of centering prayer and opening to the movement of the Spirit.
15 minutes of prayer for the persons directly involved in the proceedings, the Judicial Council members, those representing the South Central Jurisdiction that filed the case, those representing the Western Jurisdiction, including the College of Bishops and its counsels, and Bishop Karen Oliveto and her spouse, Robin Ridenour.
15 minutes of prayer for those who will be immediately affected by whatever decision comes from the Judicial Council.
15 minutes of prayer for the people and churches of the Mountain Sky Area and the Western Jurisdiction as we work to discern how we will move forward, no matter what the decision may be.
10 minutes of prayers of thanksgiving for the work God has done and continues to do in The United Methodist Church as we seek a place of unity.
Since her assignment starting last September, Bishop Oliveto has exhibited a leadership style and Christ-focused vision for the people of the Mountain Sky Area. Many there would like to continue to see what her leadership will foster. Please hold the people and churches of this area in your prayers as well and reach out to offer your prayerful support during this time of uncertainty.
Prayer IS Action! Here’s a word of hope and action in face of President Trump’s recent Immigration Order. Steve Sprecher is interim Cascadia district superintendent in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. We can all pray with Muslims around the world at noon on Friday. One God, many names! – Bishop Elaine
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
It is no secret that we are living in a tumultuous and disturbing time of social and political upheaval. Almost every newscast or conversation starts with a phrase like, “we’ve never seen anything like this before.”
But in fact we have. This is not the first time in our history that dark forces have attempted to build walls of division between people, to label and demonize others, and to use these wedges to persecute those “others” who are different from us. Examples of such prejudice and xenophobia are, sadly, too numerous to mention.
Today we are in a different country with different players, but the underlying forces are the same. Attempts to play to our fears instead of our hopes, to emphasize divisions instead of the commonalities which are the strength of our communities have brought us to a moment of truth when we have the opportunity and responsibility to decide who we want to be in the future – as Americans, and especially as Christians – and where we want to look for guidance to lead us forward.
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.