'I am a bishop.' Lesbian Methodist bishop defiant in the wake of challenge to her election

Bishop Karen Oliveto addresses a press conference after the hearingReconciling Ministries Network/Facebook

A lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church asserted her calling to the ministry after a council hearing to determined whether her election last summer was valid.

Karen Oliveto said she is not the first gay bishop and will not be the last

The church's judicial council hearing took place in a hotel in Newark, New Jersey.

A decision will be issued in a few days on whether the Church's Western Jurisdiction had the right to elect her a bishop.

Oliveto, 55, speaking at a press conference after the hearing, said: 'My name is Karen Oliveto and I am the Bishop of the Mountain Sky area of the United Methodist Church. I stand here with my colleagues in the Western Jurisdiction, my partners in ministry of the Western Sky area... and my siblings in Christ, the queer clergy caucus of the United Methodist Church.'

Also there were her mother Mary Oliveto, her wife, a deacon in the church and her childhood pastor.

She said it was as if everything had brought her to this point. No-one had questioned at the hearing the 'gifts and graces' she possesses for the ordained ministry, and specifically for the episcopal ministry.

 Oliveto said at the press conference, posted live on Facebook by the Reconciling Ministries Network, that 'no one has looked at my work and said my abilities for the task are lacking'.

Quoting John 15:16, she continued, 'You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.'

She said: 'This is a pivotal moment in the life of the United Methodist Church as the judicial council deliberates on those who God has called to bear fruit in the world, specifically the role gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex people have in ordained ministry. In fact LGBTQI people have been serving faithfully as ordained ministers and yes, even bishops, in this denomination since it was created in 1968.'

They had done it at great personal cost, 'serving in the silence of closets in order to be faithful to God's call'.

Yet instead of asking whether people possessed the gifts needed for ministry, the Church had made heterosexuality a requirement for ministry, she said. 

She admitted the Church was divided and had come to an impasse. 

'As people of faith, we know we cannot give timelines and deadlines to the Holy Spirit.'

She predicted, 'God has and will continue to call faithful United Methodists who happen to be LGBTQI to serve their church. This helps move the conversation away from debating homosxuality as an issue to that of talking with people of the United Methodist Church who are LGBTQI, whose lives bear the fruits of the spirit that enriches the community of faith.'

She stated, 'I am not the first gay bishop and I will not be the last.'

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, of the Church's north-west area, told the press conference:  'Every bishop in the Western Jurisdiction, active and retired, claims Bishop Oliveto as an esteemed colleague, and we recognise God at work in her life, in her marriage to Robin, and through her ministry as bishop.'

She said Oliveto remained silent during the hearing, but added that 'the very stones would cry out if we fail to hear her voice' at the press conference.

Oliveto was elected bishop on July 15 and consecrated a day later, although the United Methodist Church technically forbids the ordination of 'self-avowed practising gay people'. 

Earlier, in May, 111 clergy came out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and inter-sex in an attempt to force the issue.

The Church has created a commission to discuss its stance on homosexuality. Some jurisdictions are defying their church by openly ordaining gay ministers.