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.
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.
Vision is the word I use to describe why a congregation exists. The big huge purpose of the church is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But that mission statement is a purpose bigger than any congregation can fulfill on its own. Vision is the particularization of the mission in a specific community of Christians at a specific time. It deals with two questions that have real, but constantly evolving answers.
Who are the specific people we called to engage in the life of discipleship?
What is the specific transformation we are called to bring now?
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.