Last Friday night at the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the UMC, we crossed a threshold. A new Bishop was elected to fill a vacancy left by a retiring bishop in the Northern California-Nevada Conference, and the delegates chose Rev. Karen Oliveto, an openly lesbian pastor, to be a new bishop of the UMC. Her consecration was held on Saturday at PVUMC, with 10 robed bishops filling the chancel area, and banners carried during the processional and recessional. It was a joyous occasion.
When we were asked to host the Consecration service two years ago, no one knew who the new Bishop would be or that this would prove such a momentous event. The United Methodist Church has struggled mightily these past years around issues of homosexuality and inclusiveness. Rev. Oliveto’s election makes a powerful statement about the increasing openness of the church to welcome, support, and recognize the leadership of LGBTQ persons. I know that many in our church rejoice over this. I also know some are upset and are considering leaving the church. I sincerely hope that no one will leave us, and please know how much I would want to have conversation with you about this before you decide.
Many others are thinking hard, wondering what this means for our church, the body of Christ.
Our Council of Bishops of the UMC released a statement after Rev. Oliveto’s election, which included these words: Though conflicted and fragile, The United Methodist Church remains a strong witness to the transforming love of God and the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We affirm that our witness is defined, not by an absence of conflict, but how we act in our disagreements. We affirm that our unity is not defined by our uniformity, but by our compassionate and Spirit-led faithfulness to our covenant with God, Christ’s Church and one another.
We have always worked as a church from a conciliar spirit, which means we make decisions and discern the church’s direction through conversation, holy conferencing and seeking together to know God’s will. There has never been a more important time in recent history for us to seek God’s will for the church than right now.
This Sunday, as we finish up our worship series “(Im)Perfect,” we will talk about becoming perfect in love. Our founder, John Wesley, believed that the Holy Spirit could help us to love God with all of our being: heart, mind and soul. Jesus teaches selfless love, which places love for others above all others, except for God. When we love others, we commit ourselves to being the very image of Christ. God calls us to love in faithful ways. Even when there is conflict in our lives or the church, God loves us and renews our hearts to express divine love more fully and completely. Sunday, I invite you to come meet and know this kind of love as we worship God, the source of love.