‘Marching Off The Map,’ Openly Gay Bishop Moves Into Uncharted Territory: Audio

September 14, 2016
Photo: 'Marching Off The Map'(Courtesy UMC Mountain Sky Area)
Karen Oliveto gives her first sermon as bishop for the Mountain Sky area of the United Methodist Church.

Karen Oliveto, the first openly gay bishop in the United Methodist Church, says that as a child she was fascinated by maps -- which is fitting, she says, for her new position as bishop of the United Methodist Church.

"We are now marching off the map," Oliveto said Sunday at Park Hill United Methodist Church in Denver, where she gave her first sermon as bishop. "Today, we find ourselves in uncharted waters."

Oliveto was elected as bishop for the Mountain Sky region, which includes Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and part of Idaho, in July. Her election was controversial: another jurisdiction, the South Central area, which includes Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico, is attempting to have the result declared invalid based on Oliveto's sexuality.

Hear an excerpt from Karen Oliveto's first sermon as bishop:

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Oliveto spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. 

On getting to know her newly-appointed region: 

"I took the long road here from the [San Francisco] Bay Area to move. I entered the area through Yellowstone Park, and made my way down through Wyoming. So Sept. 1 I officially stared, and the movers came, and a few days later I hit the road and visited three churches in Wyoming. This past Saturday I was very happy to finally hit a trail in the mountains. So I'm trying to take it all in; this is gorgeous country, and I'm very grateful for where the maps are leading me."

On why she chose to visit Wyoming first:

"I went there first because I can't lead if I don't know who the people are, what their needs are, what their hopes are. And so when I was elected, I immediately told the district superintendents who oversee smaller regions of churches, I said 'I want tours. I want to visit these churches, I want to get to know them.' And I have to tell you, what these small churches are doing in their communities, some 100 miles from another community, it's really powerful the way their extending compassion into their neighborhoods and towns."

On what she saw during her visits:

"I saw women gathering to quilt, and make sure that children in poverty, veterans, others have quilts to keep them warm at night. I saw people making sure that others had food on their table. Actually what I was really amazed at is how many churches open their doors at night to have free community meals. Which we know that hunger is a real problem in the United States and particularly in smaller communities. And so to see these churches open their doors, say 'We're going to make sure people have, not just a warm meal, but community,' was really, really beautiful to behold."

On the reaction from the communities she visited to her controversial election: 

"It is controversial, and God is doing a new thing. And yeah, there's some people tilting their head, 'What is this?' But I have to say that, for the most part I was warmly received. And you know, we're going to move into this together. There was great hospitality, very, very generous hospitality."