A Sunday School Lesson On Bishop Karen Oliveto
By Karen Gaines
If you have ever seen a sweet little face on Sunday morning bursting to get to Sunday School, you will know why I teach. I’m hooked. I am in the deep end and I simply love it. So, it is not unusual for me to review lesson plans, late in the evening, PJ’s on, re-reading scripture and checking Pinterest for classroom ideas. I pray on that lesson plan and on each child in my classroom. I teach wherever there is a need from 3-year-olds to high school students. I have been teaching and shepherding students in youth groups, confirmation classes, and Sunday School classrooms for over 20 years. Children’s ministry touches our future and am so proud to serve in it.
I am a lay person in The United Methodist Church. I am a Wesleyan. I teach Sunday School.
I get to see them as they come into church in their mother’s arms to be baptized. I get to see them discover God’s Word in wooden puzzles, in Bible storybooks, in games, in song, in scripture, in mission, in themselves and in others. I share their faith journey from discovering God’s awesome, enormous love to asking those really tough questions. Why did they lose a beloved grandparent? Why did a classmate take their own life? Why was their friend, Jesus, crucified? Those are challenging and very somber conversations – teachable moments. I have a hand to hold, a heart to listen and scripture to comfort them. “Before you were born, I set you apart.” Jeremiah 1:5; “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” Hebrews 13:1; “Clothe yourselves with compassion.” Colossians 3:12; “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” John 14:12
The question I cannot answer is why the church is not welcoming everybody to serve God and His children in their best and fullest way. Why would a beloved and effective faith leader have her election as Bishop called into question simply because she is a married lesbian? The recent Judicial Court ruling of The United Methodist Church on Bishop Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Area within the Western Jurisdiction eludes my understanding since I believe it shows no trace of the compassion, love and mercy demanded by our faith. I have not had the pleasure of knowing Bishop Oliveto but for me there have been countless other ministers and bishops who have taught and shepherded me. And not once did I think to question their sexual orientation – because it doesn’t matter. They are all God’s servants trying to do His work – offering to the world every gift and grace they can.
After being carefully nurtured in Sunday School, confirmation class, and youth groups, I have had the pleasure of seeing those sweet faces become they the people God intended them to be. Parents, Painters, Actuaries, Activists and yes, in some cases, part of the LGBT community. It should never what matter community they are a part of. God loves them. Their families love them. I love them. So how do I explain this: because of their identification as LGBT they may not become ordained in The United Methodist Church? Why do we close our doors to our own children — on this one attribute — which does not diminish their effective ministry? How do I answer that question?
The United Methodist Church has substantial resources at its discretion – money, time and talent. The success of the church over the last centuries is evident in every corner of the world and the work continues. But why waste any resources pitting one jurisdiction against each other? Aren’t these resources better used to address, and indeed solve, intractable, systematic and pervasive issues of poverty, disease and injustice? Let’s not create another class of victims because we were so caught up in our orthodoxy that we forget the greatest commandment – love one another.
We need The United Methodist Church to show God’s awesome, enormous love in its every word and deed. We need them to welcome everybody – the poor, the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned, the misunderstood and the teacher who is still a student. For there is no church, no hint of heaven above, without all of God’s children. All of us.
Karen Gaines is Chief Financial Office at Auburn Seminary and Sunday School teacher at her local United Methodist Church.