By Jim Nibbelink, Head of Delegation of the Desert Southwest Conference
It’s been eight months since the Western Jurisdictional Conference elected Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto as a Bishop of The United Methodist Church. Bishop Oliveto has been faithfully and thoughtfully serving the Mountain Sky Area – the Yellowstone Conference and the Rocky Mountain Conference – since September 1st. She has led with boldness and vision, just the sort of attributes that we who elected her saw in her ministry before her election.
Like most of the Western Jurisdiction delegates, I’ve been asked not only if I voted for Bishop Oliveto, but also why. There are concerns about our electing the first openly lesbian Bishop, so I’d like to share my perspective and experience. The most important factor in determining my vote is always whether or not I would like to have a particular candidate as my Bishop at some point in the future. For me, this consideration rolls together all of the valid questions about qualifications, experience, talents and readiness to serve that naturally are a part of selecting a new Bishop. The key to the decision process is to be open to surprises; to the working of God’s Spirit among the candidates and the voting delegates. I’ve been privileged to serve as a delegate to six Jurisdictional Conferences over twenty-four years. At each and every one of these experiences, it’s been amazing and wonderful to feel and be a part of how God’s Spirit moves in and through the group, as the election process unfolds. My goal is always to elect the best person, and I’m continually amazed at how my discernment is sharpened by paying attention to God after I’ve done all of my research and preparations! I believe that in electing Bishop Oliveto, we discerned the best person for this time and place, a woman with a pastoral heart who is concerned with building God’s Kingdom on the teaching and example of Jesus.
I’ve heard that some people are certain that the one hundred voting delegates went to the conference with the singular intent of electing a gay or lesbian person as a Bishop. That could not be further from the truth. There were nine candidates, each with special gifts and experiences. All met the Disciplinary requirements for election as elders in good standing and all received votes on the early ballots. If there had been some grand plan to guarantee a certain outcome, I don’t think that it would have taken us seventeen ballots! As the conference unfolded, our delegation was able to personally and privately interview more than half of the candidates to assist us with our decision-making. My perspectives deepened, and my perceptions changed as a result of this process. And, we were able to give God’s Spirit time to move among and through us. As voting continued over two days, many fine candidates withdrew from consideration. I focused my attention on Rev. Dr. Oliveto and the gifts she would bring to the office of Bishop. The more I prayed and observed and interacted with people who knew her better than I did, the more I became convinced that she was the right person for us to elect. The final ballot was eighty-eight affirmative votes for Bishop Oliveto, with twelve abstentions.
I’m proud of the job we did as delegates and pleased that our new Bishop is so well-qualified to serve God and The United Methodist Church. Yes, I voted for her. It was the right and Spirit-led thing to do.