Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Grace and peace to you in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ, our Risen Savior!
I am sharing some thoughts with you about a matter of great importance following the election, consecration, and assignment of Bishop Karen Oliveto last July. After Bishop Oliveto had been elected by the Western Jurisdiction Conference, the South Central Jurisdiction asked for a ruling by the Judicial Council, the Supreme Court of The United Methodist Church. The request was for a ruling that the Judicial Council determine whether Bishop Oliveto’s election was valid. The Judicial Council will conduct a hearing on this matter when it meets in Newark, New Jersey on April 25. Following the hearing and deliberations, a ruling is expected within a few days following a process that is outlined in paragraphs 2610 and 2612 in the 2016 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
Your bishops of the Western Jurisdiction share with you prayerfully that we believe that Bishop Oliveto’s election, consecration, and assignment to lead the Mountain Sky Area is valid. More than that, we believe that it is a demonstration of the movement of God’s Spirit that led the delegates to the Western Jurisdiction Conference to elect Bishop Oliveto. We, therefore, are hopeful that the Judicial Council decision will confirm this by its decision.
In my experience as your bishop, I know that there exists a broad range of beliefs about this matter. There are good and faithful United Methodists on both sides of the question before the Judicial Council. The conversations at our Holy Huddles on Church Unity confirmed this! The overwhelming majority of the persons who shared their beliefs and faith were hopeful that we could find a way to work to bridge our differences and be unified as a body of Christ despite our differences. The overwhelming majority voice felt that our United Methodist Church was like a big tent or a house with many rooms, where we could live together, focused on mission and ministry as our source of unity. We believe that God is calling us to this unity despite our differences.
There are several potential outcomes of the Judicial Council ruling. The decision will have significant implications for the entire denomination. And the ruling will be important for us in the Desert Southwest Conference. But our sisters and brothers in Christ in the Mountain Sky Area, and Bishop Oliveto will be most affected by whatever the Judicial Council decides. For this reason, I ask you to hold them in your prayers.
The Western Jurisdiction has prepared some helpful information that I would like to encourage you to share with your congregations as soon as possible. Following the public announcement of the Judicial Council’s ruling, more information for our churches and leaders will be offered so that we can lead our church together.
I know that whatever the outcome of the Judicial Council is, there will not be uniformity of agreement or acceptance in our Conference and throughout the denomination. There will be a wide range of feelings, and there will be some who can no longer remain as a part of our church. In these moments, leaning on our faith and our common call to be in ministry to all persons may help us to pause to listen to what God is saying to us. Above all, I am hopeful that we will lean on God and that we will hear again the promise: Do not be afraid, for I am with you.
In a time such as this, we must remember the reassuring wisdom of John Wesley who said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.”
Although the ruling of the Judicial Council will have significant implications for us as we seek to be the Church together, I hope that our faith will strengthen our resolve to work together for the future of our United Methodist Church. We are no stranger to disagreement and challenges to our unity. In fact, we have found that when we pause to ask prayerfully for God’s help in time of distress, God does not disappoint us. And so we have faith, or we must have faith that God will guide us in this critical moment.
I will be traveling to New Jersey to be with many of our Western Jurisdiction bishops to be a support for a colleague bishop whom I respect as a strong leader with a clear call and profound faith. I ask you to please hold Bishop Oliveto in prayer along with the laity and clergy of the Mountain Sky Area, members of the Judicial Council, and all those who will speak their heart before the Judicial Council as it meets on April 25.