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For the first openly gay Methodist bishop, Christianity continued to be her calling

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time again for StoryCorps. Karen Oliveto loved Sunday school.

KAREN OLIVETO: As soon as I went down into that musty, smelly, crayon-y, moldy room, I was home.

MARTIN: She never forgot that feeling. Karen grew up to become a pastor. Then, in 2016, she became the first openly gay bishop in the history of the United Methodist Church. Over the years, she received hate mail - even death threats, but Christian ministry never ceased to be her calling. At StoryCorps, she talked with her wife, Robin Ridenour.

ROBIN RIDENOUR: Was there a time in your career as a pastor that you were worried that you would lose your ordination?

OLIVETO: Well, I've worried about that for 42 years. I remember when Michael and Sean, they said, you know, Pastor, we would really love to have a holy union, and we know it's against the church rules, but would you do it? And I said, well, of course, and the little old ladies did the reception, and we are dancing together afterwards. But then I had a complaint against my ministry, and I was really worried. You have seen the hate I've received. I mean, I feared for my life. We had a bodyguard for 18 months. How has that made you feel?

RIDENOUR: I have to say I don't have the grace you have (laughter). People that you love have just turned their backs on you. To see you so hurt and so wounded and then to watch you forgive - it's really, really hard, because I can; I can hold a grudge.

OLIVETO: I appreciate that you feel that so deeply, maybe in ways that I'm afraid to touch.

RIDENOUR: Well, when you look at someone, they know that you are seeing them. I think who you are - that essence of you - is what people love.

OLIVETO: You know, I never knew, when I went to a church - would I be welcomed? I would have to prepare myself, and so I'd sit in the parking lot...

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OLIVETO: ...And I'd say, God, give me an undefended heart. We always said, no matter what, we were going to lead with love.

RIDENOUR: Yeah.

OLIVETO: We're going to lead with love.

MARTIN: Pastor Karen Oliveto and her wife, Robin Ridenour. They interviewed each other for StoryCorps in Billings, Mont. Last month, the United Methodist Church dropped a ban against openly gay clergy. This interview is archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Esther Honig
Esther Honig is a reporter with Side Effects Public Media and WOSU. She joined WOSU in early 2016. Born in San Francisco, Esther got her start in public radio while attending Mills College in Oakland, California. Before reporting for WOSU, she worked with member station KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri. Her radio reporting has been featured on NPR, the BBC and PRI’s The World. A fluent Spanish-speaker and avid rock climber, Esther is always in search of a good story. [Copyright 2024 Side Effects Public Media]