Bishop Karen Oliveto C’80, G’91,’02 Retires as Leader of the Mountain Sky Conference

The beloved bishop and three-time Drew alum receives grand send off

July 2024 – Bishop Karen Oliveto C’80, G’91,’02 recently celebrated her retirement from the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) where she has served as the leader since 2016.

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Bishop Karen Oliveto C'80, G'91,'02, right, with wife Robin Ridenour

Oliveto, described as an “icon of inclusiveness” and “a living legend,” has the distinction of being the first openly lesbian bishop in the UMC. She and her wife, Robin Ridenour, were married in 2014.

Nearly 400 United Methodist laity and clergy gathered at a celebration held at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. A combined seven-church choir, accompanied by an organ and brass ensemble, dressed in the colors of the rainbow.

Professor of Church Music Mark A. Miller shared a video version of his song, “A Child of God,” dedicated to Oliveto and Ridenour.

Co-Chairs of United Methodist Association of Retired Clergy and Friends (UMARC) the Rev. Dr. Harvey Martz and Rev. Dr. Donald Messer, Centennial, Colorado, both recognized Oliveto’s global influence as well as her impact on the Mountain Sky Conference. They presented the inaugural Karen P. Oliveto and Robin Ridenour Award to the Reconciling Ministries Network. 

“Forty years of grassroots advocacy and witness helped create the foundation for a new transformed United Methodism,” said Martz. The award will be presented to future laity, pastors, and organizations that reflect “the inclusiveness and hope embodied in these two courageous United Methodist women.”

During the celebration, the Rev. Ann Lantz of The Estes Park UMC announced the building of six “grandmother” houses to care for AIDS orphans in Maua, Kenya, in cooperation with the Center for Health and Hope, Centennial, Colorado. The homes will be dedicated in honor of Oliveto and Ridenour.

At the close of the celebration, Oliveto presided at serving Holy Communion. During her sermon, “Always Making Sure There Is More Room at the Table,” she shared that she was inspired by her mother to include and never exclude others.  

“The miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand with a few fishes and loaves of bread was really the divine miracle of human sharing,” said Oliveto.

Oliveto was named by NBC as one of 30 contemporary LGBTQ changemakers as part of their #Pride50 series. She was also named one of the Faith Leaders to Watch in 2021 by the Center for American Progress.

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