Statement from Rocky Mountain Conference Delegation
to the Western Jurisdiction Conference
As you may be aware, the Western Jurisdiction elected a new Bishop this evening. Your Rocky Mountain Conference delegation spent time in prayer and conversation regarding this election, in the weeks leading up to this Jurisdictional Conference and in the days prior to the election in Scottsdale. Our dialogue and prayer centered around the need to elect a bishop who could help lead our denomination during this time of uncertainty; a bishop with the gifts and graces to lead the Annual Conference and the general church; a bishop with the skill set to empower laity and clergy within the local churches and other local ministry settings. We were committed to electing the most qualified candidate for the needs of the church today, and the needs of the church tomorrow.
It became apparent after the first ballot of the potential that the Western Jurisdiction might elect the first openly gay or lesbian bishop in our denomination. Following speeches, specific conference interview times, and panel discussions, Rev. Karen Oliveto presented as a very strong candidate for the episcopal office. This led to conference delegation meetings, and a meeting of the jurisdictional elected delegates. What would it mean to our local churches, our annual conferences, and the wider church if we were to elect an out lesbian bishop? What legal issues might arise? How would this election affect the Bishop's Commission approved at General Conference? What impact would this election have on the denomination’s conversation and conflict regarding human sexuality? What would it mean if the jurisdiction was unwilling to take the risk, and allowed Rev. Karen's sexual orientation to be the deciding factor in voting against her?
As you can imagine, the Jurisdiction and the Rocky Mountain Conference were not of one mind. After days of prayer and discernment, after numerous ballots, Rev. Oliveto was lifted as the strongest episcopal candidate in our jurisdiction, and on the ballot seventeen, Rev. Oliveto was elected as our next Bishop in the Western Jurisdiction. We believe she is the candidate best qualified for the role of Bishop as we seek to create vital ministries, as we groan through the birthing pains of transformation, and seek to be the church in the 21st century.
The Rocky Mountain Conference delegation is aware of the historic nature of this election, and we are aware that there is now work to be done. There will be a mixed response within our conference. There will be celebration and rejoicing. There will be anger and sadness. There will be concern about next steps and how we move forward. There will be lots of questions about what this means for our churches and pastors, especially for those whose theological beliefs may lead them to question if they can remain in our conference. Our hope is that we can stay united in Christ despite our differences. The power of our church is found in its rich diversity and broad theological beliefs.
There are many unknowns ahead and we have already begun intentional conversations for moving forward and living into this new reality. These conversations are just beginning, and we need voices from all areas of our conference to join these conversations. There will be more information in the near future as we discern together, as a conference and as a jurisdiction. Please join us in praying for Bishop Oliveto, and praying for the United Methodist Church.
Kent Ingram, on behalf of your entire Rocky Mountain delegation.