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Alumnx Feature: Bishop Karen P. Oliveto

Pacific School of Religion (PSR) alumnx Bishop Karen P. Oliveto (MDiv ‘83) made history in 2016 as the first openly lesbian bishop to be elected in the United Methodist Church (UMC). She currently leads the Mountain Sky Area which includes over 360 congregations in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho.  

Throughout her career, Oliveto has been a passionate advocate for social justice and LGBTQ+ rights. In 2008 she became the first female pastor at GLIDE Memorial Church in San Francisco, making her the first woman to serve as senior pastor at one of the UMC’s 100 largest congregations. While at GLIDE Oliveto performed marriages for hundreds of gay couples and married her wife Robin Ridenour, a deaconess in UMC’s California-Nevada Conference. Today GLIDE Memorial Church’s master of celebration is another PSR alumnx, Marvin K. White (MDiv ‘16). 

Oliveto’s continued leadership has been instrumental in promoting inclusivity and diversity in the United Methodist Church. She has been a vocal advocate for the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the church, challenging traditional views and paving the way for greater acceptance and understanding. She has also been a champion for women’s rights and racial justice. 

In addition to earning a Master of Divinity degree from Pacific School of Religion in 1983, she also earned a bachelor’s in psychology, a master’s in philosophy, and a Ph.D. in Sociology of Religion from Drew University. She also served as the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at PSR and was an adjunct professor of UMC Studies from 2004-06.  

Of her time as a student at PSR Oliveto said, “PSR prepared me for the vocation of ministry by helping me see “church” beyond my own experience of it. Through classes, mealtime conversations, GTU offerings, and an immersion in the justice work within church and society, I was stretched to see new possibilities, new ways of doing ministry, and new ways of embodying the Gospel imperative of love of God and neighbor.” 

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