Category: News

Bishop Leeland releases statement regarding the decision of the Judicial Council:

The United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council has been asked by the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church to determine the constitutionality of the election of Rev. Karen Oliveto as a bishop by the Western Jurisdictional Conference.  The deep and diverse opinions expressed throughout our nation regarding sexuality are also presently reflected within our denomination.  Since Bishop Oliveto is married to a spouse of the same sex, the validity of her election and consecration as a Bishop of The United Methodist Church has been called into question.

Now that the Judicial Council has made a response and rationale to the request (read here), I wanted to make the following observations:

  • While persons will react in different ways to this decision, some positively, some negatively, some neutrally, the mission of the local church by the guidance of the Holy Spirit is to help others “accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God” (¶ 202).
  • The ministry of our local churches will not change. The context of our communities will continue to be places which call for ongoing responses to the needs for God’s Grace.  The Presence of the Resurrected Christ will invite others to find their protection, freedom, and direction in Jesus alone.  “The angel of God, who had been leading, now moved and went around behind them” (Ex 14:19).  May we truly speak of the ways in which Jesus shields us and leads us to eternal freedom, regardless of the storms and controversies surrounding us.  This has been our Easter message!
  • The Judicial Council has the authority to address specific requests related to the constitutionality of our discipline but does not have the authority to change The Book of Disicipline.
  • The General Conference requested that the Council of Bishops create the Commission on A Way Forward “to examine the paragraphs of The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.”
  • The Commission on A Way Forward continues to meet and will share its work at a special called session of General Conference, February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri. It is our General Conference that will determine the next steps forward in regard to this divisive, dispute.
  • Like all families, we have family members who do not express themselves as we would wish. In such moments we look for the things that genuinely unite us, that make us family.  It is my hope that we can identify these uniting attributes, those elements that hold us together and help us find a Way Forward as those who “accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and live their lives in light of their relationship with God.”
  • I also encourage you to read the statement offered by our Council of Bishops in response to the Judicial Council.

I pray for those who have the responsibility of serving on the Commission on A Way Forward.  I invite you to join me in praying for them as well.

Finally, I would encourage you to be a non-anxious presence, trusting in the Providence of God, as you pray for the ministries within our annual conference related to our local churches, districts, youth, retirement homes, colleges, universities, and new places of worship.  These Christian ministries are deeply dependent on how we live our “daily lives in light of our relationship with God.”

Consecration of gay bishop against church law

Bishop Karen Oliveto (left) leans over to speak with her wife, Robin Ridenour (behind Oliveto) prior to a meeting of the United Methodist Judicial Council in Newark, N.J. The denomination’s top court ruled on April 28 that the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law. At right is Bishop Elaine Stanovsky.

By Linda Bloom
April 28, 2017 | NEWARK, N.J. (UMNS)

The consecration of a gay bishop violates church law, the top court of The United Methodist Church has ruled.

However, the bishop “remains in good standing,” the Judicial Council said in Decision 1341, until an administrative or judicial process is completed.

“Under the long-standing principle of legality, no individual member or entity may violate, ignore or negate church law,” said the decision, made public April 28. “It is not lawful for the college of bishops of any jurisdictional or central conference to consecrate a self-avowed practicing homosexual bishop.”

Officials in the U.S. Western Jurisdiction consecrated the Rev. Karen Oliveto as a bishop on July 16, 2016. Based in the Denver area, she is the episcopal leader of the Mountain Sky Area, which encompasses Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and one church in Idaho.

A petition from the South Central Jurisdiction to the Judicial Council raised four questions about the legality of that election. Judicial Council claimed jurisdiction to review its petition “only with respect to the consecration of an openly homosexual bishop” and said the rest of the petition, related to nomination, election and assignment, “is improper.”

The vote on the decision was 6-3. Judicial Council members N. Oswald Tweh and Deanell Reece Tacha filed a joint dissenting opinion that the council had no jurisdiction over the petition. First lay alternate W. Warren Plowden Jr., who was sitting for council member Beth Capen, and council member Ruben T. Reyes each filed a concurring and dissenting opinion.

The court rejected the argument made during the April 25 oral hearing by Richard Marsh, Western Jurisdiction counsel, that Oliveto’s same-sex marriage to Robin Ridenour in 2014 was not a public statement about her sexual practices.

“A same-sex marriage license issued by competent civil authorities together with the clergy person’s status in a same-sex relationship is a public declaration that the person is a self-avowed practicing homosexual” for purposes of the prohibitive language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, Paragraphs 304.3 and 2702.1(b), the council ruled.

Church law requires all clergy persons to dedicate themselves to “the highest ideals of Christian life,” the decision said, including “their commitment to abide by and uphold the church’s definition of marriage and stance on homosexuality. An openly homosexual and partnered bishop is in violation of those minimum standards.”

The decision further found that an openly homosexual and partnered bishop may be charged with disobedience to church law, along with other bishops and clergy persons who actively participate in the consecration of a bishop who has been found to be a self-avowed practicing homosexual through a judicial or administrative process.

“Self-avowal does not nullify the consecration and cause removal from episcopal office but is a sufficient declaration to subject the bishop’s ministerial office to review,” the decision said.

Judicial Council spelled out the process required by The Discipline for such a review, which begins with the filing of a complaint against the bishop. If action is not initiated by the jurisdictional or central conference, the president or secretary of that body’s college of bishops must take action.

Pending the supervisory response process to review episcopal membership and office, the college of bishops, in consultation with the committee on episcopacy, “may suspend the bishop from all episcopal responsibilities for a period not to exceed 60 days.”

The process allows for a bishop to be placed in the retired relationship “regardless of age” if it is “found to be in the best interests of the bishop and/or the church.”

If there is no resolution, “the president or secretary of the college of bishops may refer the matter as an administrative or judicial complaint,” the ruling concluded.


In a joint dissenting opinion at the bottom of Decision 1341, Judicial Council members N. Oswald Tweh and Deanell Reece Tacha “respectfully” argued that the council did not have jurisdiction for the petition from the South Central Jurisdiction.

“Our difference with the majority revolves simply around which are the proper body or bodies for making these decisions,” the opinion said. “This Judicial Council, like all judicial bodies, is restricted to deciding those matters over which we clearly have jurisdiction.”

The opinion from Tweh and Tacha argues that the majority decision “relies on consecration of bishops as the jurisdictional ‘hook’ … because consecration of bishops is an act on behalf of the whole church. We are convinced that this is an elevation of consecration of bishops that has no limiting meaning for jurisdictional purposes.”

Under the church’s constitution and The Discipline, only the Council of Bishops or General Conference have the authority to petition the Judicial Council “for declaratory decisions on behalf of the entire church,” they wrote.

In a concurring and dissenting opinion, W. Warren Plowden Jr. — the first lay alternate, who was sitting for council member Beth Capen — said the Judicial Council does have jurisdiction and further concluded that the Western Jurisdiction “knew full well that it was acting unlawfully when it elected a self-avowed practicing homosexual as a bishop of the church.”

Plowden said the Western Jurisdiction’s action “negated, ignored and violated provisions of The Discipline and is null, void and of no effect resulting in the invalidation of Karen Oliveto’s episcopal office.”

In his own concurring and dissenting opinion, council member Ruben T. Reyes agreed with Plowden’s opinion regarding the bishop’s election “but noted that fair process must be observed.” — Linda Bloom

Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York. Follow her at or contact her at 615-742-5470 To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests. 


The Way Forward, from Easter to Pentecost

Message from the moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward

We live in the great fifty days, after the church has witnessed the presence of the risen Christ and before the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is a time of being together in community, discerning the future and depending on God.

The Commission on a Way Forward recently gathered for its third meeting. We studied the scriptures, shared meals, reflected honestly about our convictions and listened intently to each other’s hopes. We also began to think strategically and structurally about the future of our church, as we have been asked by the denomination to do.

In anticipation of the upcoming Judicial Council decision related to the election of Karen Oliveto as a Bishop of the church, we want to remind you of the context of our ongoing work. The Council of Bishops is committed to the unity of the church and the flourishing of its mission. One of the instruments of this unity is the Commission on a Way Forward, which is accountable to the Council of Bishops and through the Council to the General Conference.

We believe the Holy Spirit is operating through the Commission’s and Council’s leadership and conferencing. The conciliar work of the Commission happens concurrently with other legal, legislative, and supervisory processes. The members of the Judicial Council are elected by the General Conference. Their decisions are the product of their own sense of guidance.

The Commission on a Way Forward will continue its work after the Judicial Council decision, and the outcome of the decision is not the focus of our mandate. We urge the entire church to stay focused on the Commission’s work as our best opportunity to determine God’s leading for the church.

In the coming months we will move more deeply into the implications of being a global church that seeks to balance an approach to different and contextual understandings of LGBTQ identity with a desire for as much unity and connection as possible. We will be exploring this in the context of our mission and structure, and we will be developing models of listening and teaching in collaboration with the Council of Bishops and across annual conferences.

We encourage you to follow the work of the Commission on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We are grateful for your prayers and indeed we depend upon them. And mostly we claim the promise of the scriptures, that God will pour out his spirit on all flesh! (Acts 2)

The Moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward
(Bishops David Yemba, Sandra Steiner Ball, and Ken Carter)

Global Ministries welcomes new Director of The Advance and Fundraising

The Reverend Russell Pierce, an elder in the Western North Carolina Conference, and an experienced non-profit leader and strategist, joined The United Methodist Church General Board of Global Ministries as its new Director of The Advance and Fundraising on April 10, 2017, following his role as Senior Director of Funds Development with Church World Service (CWS).

Of his new position, Pierce says “It has long been a dream of mine to serve The United Methodist Church as part of the team at Global Ministries. I’ve seen first-hand the impact of the work Global Ministries and UMCOR has on communities around the world and congregations who support them.”

During his tenure with Church World Service (CWS), a faith-based non-profit headquartered in New York City, Pierce led a team connecting US-based congregations, individuals, foundations, and communities with sustainable development and emergency response opportunities in over 30 countries. Prior to CWS, Pierce served appointments at UM-related Dakota Wesleyan University, led one of the Red Bird mission agencies, and served as a pastor in the US and abroad. Pierce has earned two Master’s degrees; a Master of Divinity from Duke University, and a Master of Nonprofit Administration from the University of Notre Dame.

“Russ brings valuable knowledge of the church, and the generous, helping spirit of United Methodists,” Kemper said, “and we are honored to attract someone of his professional experience, theological preparation, and skill.”

Russ and his wife, the Reverend Kathy Barba Pierce, who are both members of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, and their children, Aidan and Clare, are currently in the process of relocating to the Atlanta area.

Offerings from United Methodist Communications


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Duke offers study leave for ministry professionals for 2017-18

Find the time to read, reflect, research, or just relax with Study Leave for Ministry Professionals. Over the span of five to seven days, participants can immerse themselves in learning and renewal through self-directed study, worship and prayer on the Duke University campus. This flexible program is designed for Christian institutional leaders, pastors, program staff, and laity, and can cost as little as $150. You select the study topic. We provide all the resources you’ll need to make your week as productive as possible.

While at Duke, you may choose to:

  • Audit Divinity School classes
  • Meet with Divinity School faculty as appropriate to your topic of study
  • Participate in community worship and lectures

Tuition for churches eligible for Duke Endowment grants and certain other individuals is $150 (a $550 discount) and includes:

  • Four nights of accommodations (extended stay options available)
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  • Continuing education credit unit opportunities

Unlike traditional continuing education events that offer a specific course of study, Study Leave allows each participant to propose a study topic during registration. Previous participants have studied such topics as church history, Christian tradition, Scripture, worship, ethics and preaching.

Ten sessions of the program will be offered during the 2017-2018 academic year.  Group sessions are also available; please contact us for more information.

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  • April 2-8, 2018 (Post-Easter Renewal Session)

Please note that only the fall of 2017 registration has opened. The winter/spring registration will open in mid-June.

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Court hears arguments over gay bishop

Bishop Karen Oliveto (left) meets Dixie Brewster (right) for the first time prior to the opening of oral arguments before the United Methodist Judicial Council meeting in Newark, N.J. Brewster is petitioner questioning whether a gay pastor can serve as a bishop in The United Methodist Church. At rear is the Rev. Keith Boyette, representing Brewster before the council.

By Linda Bloom
April 25, 2017 | NEWARK, N.J. (UMNS)

Was last July’s election of a gay bishop by United Methodists in the denomination’s U.S. Western Jurisdiction a violation of church law or a legal elevation of a clergy member in good standing?

Representatives of both positions argued their case before the United Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, during an April 25 oral hearing.

Athough she was not named in the motion for a declaratory decision submitted to Judicial Council, the focus was squarely on Bishop Karen Oliveto, the denomination’s first openly gay bishop. Oliveto, elected in July, currently serves as bishop of the Mountain Sky Area, which encompasses Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and a church in Idaho.

Those seated in both the main hearing room and an overflow room equipped with a closed-circuit broadcast listened quietly and attentively. It was the only portion of the council’s April 25-28 meeting open to the public, but N. Oswald Tweh Sr., president of the Judicial Council, thanked the church for its “prayerful support” during his opening remarks.

Oliveto was present at the hearing, along with other bishops of the Western Jurisdiction, staff from her jurisdiction and a large group of supporters.

Also present were others interested or concerned about how Judicial Council might rule in the case — including Dixie Brewster, the petitioner and a lay representative to the 2016 South Central Jurisdictional Conference, whose motion initiated the proceedings.

The Rev. Keith Boyette represented Brewster before Judicial Council and filed briefs on her behalf that ask the council to rule that the Western Jurisdiction’s actions in electing, consecrating and assigning Oliveto “negate, ignore and violate” provisions of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book.

Richard A. Marsh, who represented the Western Jurisdiction, said the court should find that the South Central Jurisdiction had no standing to challenge the election. He cited the 1939 Plan of Union between the Methodist Episcopal Church North and Methodist Episcopal Church South as the genesis of the church’s constitutional protection for regional bodies known as jurisdictions.

The constitution provides that elections in jurisdictions be “free from interference or oversight” from other jurisdictions, he said. On that basis alone, Marsh continued, Judicial Council should decline the request for a declaratory decision on the matter.

Boyette rejected that position. “A person elected to the office of bishop is a bishop of the entire church,” he said. Any bishop can go to another jurisdiction, preside at General Conference, nominate church members to the general boards and agencies or serve in a leadership position for those boards and agencies, he added.

Marsh also argued that Oliveto was an elder in good standing and “as such, met all requirements” to be bishop.

Noting the public record of Oliveto’s 2014 same-sex marriage to Robin Ridenour, a United Methodist deaconess, Boyette disputed that she was a qualified candidate for the episcopacy. He argued that a public record of such a marriage is the same as someone being “self-avowed” as a practicing homosexual. The Discipline, he said, “makes clear” that an ordained person must be celibate in singleness or faithful in heterosexual marriage.

But the Discipline does not specifically prohibit a clergy person from being in a same-sex marriage, Marsh said. Nor, he told the council, does such a marriage equal a public statement of being self-avowed or create a legal definition of “practicing” for the church.

The decades-long position of The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, is that all people are of sacred worth but that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Since 2004, chargeable offenses under church law have included “not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage” and “being a self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member.

Earlier in the day, the United Methodist Council of Bishops had issued a “call letter” for a special session of General Conference to be held Feb. 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis. The purpose is to receive and act on the bishops’ report based on recommendations from the Commission on the Way Forward, a body established to help the denomination discuss conflicts over issues of sexuality.

Referring to that body, Marsh said that Judicial Council “should not interfere with or complicate the commission’s work” by making a ruling in this case.

Boyette declared, however, that Judicial Council is the only body within the denomination that could declare the Western Jurisdiction’s action “to be unlawful, null and void and of no effect.”

The petition on the Western Jurisdiction episcopal election is one of seven being considered by Judicial Council this week. No decisions will be released until the meeting has concluded.

Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York. Follow her at or contact her at 615-742-5470 or To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.


Briefs from petitioner

Opening brief on behalf of Dixie Brewster, file by the Rev. Keith Boyette

Reply brief on behalf of Dixie Brewster, filed by the Rev. Keith Boyette

Briefs from respondent

Opening brief on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, filed by Richard A. Marsh and Llewelyn G. Pritchard

Reply brief on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, filed by Richard A. Marsh and Llewelyn G. Pritchard


UMC Bishops Call Special Session of General Conference for 2019

Washington, D.C.: The Council of Bishops (COB) has called a Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) to be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

In announcing the call, COB President Bishop Bruce R. Ough said the Special Session will be held in accordance with Division Two – Section II – Article II of The Constitution of The United Methodist Church as recorded in Paragraph 14 of The Book of Discipline (2016).

The purpose of the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference will be “limited to receiving and acting on a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward.”

The 32-member Commission was appointed by the Council of Bishops to assist the bishops in their charge to lead the church forward amid the impasse related to homosexuality. The Commission’s task includes examining paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and exploring options to strengthen the unity of the church.

Per the Constitution of the Church, the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference shall be composed of the delegates to the 2016 General Conference or their legal successors or alternates, except when a particular annual conference or missionary conference shall prefer to have a new election.

The Secretary of the General Conference will communicate with annual conference secretaries regarding updated delegate information, seating of reserve delegates, and the issuance of new certificates of election for annual conferences choosing to hold new elections.

The Commission on the General Conference and the Business Manager of the General Conference will develop and forward additional information regarding the logistics of the special session of General Conference at the appropriate time.

“The Council of Bishops encourages the entire church to continue in deep, unceasing prayer for Holy Spirit breakthroughs for the Commission on a Way Forward and the Special Session of General Conference,” Bishop Ough said.

Click here for the full letter sent to the Heads of Delegations to the 2016 General Conference (or successors), Secretary of the General Conference and the Chairperson of the Commission on the General Conference.