Learning to dance

Bishop Karen, how do I sum up in a few words the last year since Scottsdale, Arizona? I could speak of your vision for our conference that excites me, the deep love you have shown for every congregation small and large, even those who haven’t been ready to love you in return. I stand amazed at the deep insights and instincts of a shepherd you bring to every situation. The list of what I could say is long. So perhaps I should start at the beginning.

When you were elected, I was thrilled. You were meant to be a Bishop in The United Methodist Church I love. The interviews, the conversations, the Spirit whispering as it moved in the room… all showed this was undeniable. But then you were assigned to the Mountain Sky Area. You were to be my Bishop. Suddenly, the excitement in my gut had a partner — fear. I am privileged to serve as the District Superintendent of the Wyoming District, a District full of beautiful vistas, wide open spaces, and good salt of the earth people. But this is a conservative place. Not all in my District would be pleased with this news. Did I have what it would take to manage the emotions and the conflict? Could we get through this?

And then the announcement was read (yes, I had advanced notice, thanks to a friend) and you came to greet us, your new flock. And the first words I heard you say, with a face beaming with joy, “We are going to have fun!” The fear in my gut could hardly believe it. Fun? It was the smile on your face, the love in your eyes, that convinced me. Bishop Karen, you’ve been true to your promise, and so much more. When Bishop Elaine invited me to the Cabinet table, I knew the work would be hard, I knew it would be rewarding. I never expected it to be filled with such joy. But then, at your consecration, you began to dance… and I knew then, I think all of us present knew our lives and our conference would never be the same. Praise be to God it isn’t the same.

There have been some hard times. Some good people have parted company with us. There have been times of being on the receiving end of bitter words and having to swallow hard, kick the dust off our feet, and move forward in grace. The letters of encouragement, the power of changed hearts, the fun and friendship within the circle I’m privileged to share had made the bitter days worth it.

How do I sum up the last year? You are teaching us — let me be personal — you are teaching me how to dance. I confess: my feet haven’t learned the lesson yet, but my heart at least is learning how to dance in the melodies of grace in ways I never would have expected. You inspire me to find the joy — inexhaustible joy — even in the hard days, the frustrating days. You also inspire me to let my heart break at times, especially with those whose hearts or spirits or even bodies have been broken time and time again. You inspire us to be vulnerable enough to be our whole authentic selves in this strange journey of loving Jesus and loving those Jesus loves.

Has it really been a year?
It seems like yesterday.
Has it only been a year?
It seems like a lifetime.
Thank you for the journey
and for the lessons
along the way.
Most of all thank you
for the friendship
and for being you
through and through.
I’m ready for the
next year.

Here we are, one year later. Bishop Karen, thank you for accepting God’s call to be a Bishop in this church we love. And may God’s Spirit continue to work within and through you. Some of us – especially me – still have many steps to learn yet, but when it’s time to dance, I don’t believe you will ever be without dancing partners in the Mountain Sky Area.

*Note on this entry: This is a revised, and expanded, version of words I was privileged to offer at the Rocky Mountain Conference 2017 in a moment where we celebrated Bishop Karen Oliveto’s first annual conference as our Episcopal leader.