On August 14, openly lesbian Methodist pastor Rev. Karen Oliveto preached her last sermon to GLIDE Memorial Church, the congregation where she had ministered for the previous eight years. Elected in July as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church (UMC) – a decision which is being challenged – Oliveto relocated the following week from San Francisco to Denver to assume leadership of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area. (A complete transcript of her sermon is available here on GLIDE’s blog.)
In her sermon, Oliveto said she found it “hard to believe” that it was her final Sunday at GLIDE. “God’s call to the episcopacy, which came only as a whisper in May, has left me breathless with the swiftness of change,” she noted.
Reflecting on her time at GLIDE, Oliveto compared the UMC’s pastoral appointment process to “an arranged marriage,” since pastor and congregation were generally unfamiliar with one another beforehand. Nevertheless, she said she still “fell in love” with the church.
“I fell in love with your honesty and your vulnerability,” she elaborated. “I fell in love with the hope you hold on to and your commitment to make the world a better place. I fell in love with the way you challenged me to be a better person and pastor. I fell in love with your bling and your scrappiness.”
She added that she also fell in love with members’ “willingness to share life together,” which apparently involved social activism. Besides mission trips, this involved “pride activities, which always culminated in bringing GLIDE’s unconditional love and acceptance into the streets of San Francisco,” in addition to “workshops, classes and demonstrations.”
Quoting from Matthew 5:13-16, Oliveto challenged her congregants: “Let your light shine!” She reasoned that the world was in “dire need of light.”
“Specifically, it is in need of YOUR light,” she argued. She told her listeners to resist the lies of “systems and institutions” that told them they were “unworthy, unreliable lights.”
“Whether as individuals or communities, we are to peel off the protective layers we have built around the light of God that is within us and risk exposing our inner selves so that others may see the light of God’s love,” Oliveto commented towards the end of her sermon. “This is the source of all liberating movements. This is the cornerstone of a love revolution.”
Staff at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), particularly President Mark Tooley and United Methodist Director John Lomperis, have reported and commented extensively on Oliveto, her activism, and her election as bishop. These reports are available in archives of Juicy Ecumenism.