Glide hires LGBT advocate as minister

  • by Kris Larson
  • Wednesday February 27, 2008
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The Reverend Dr. Karen Oliveto, a longtime advocate of LGBT rights within the United Methodist Church, is joining the ministry of San Francisco's internationally renowned Glide Memorial United Methodist Church.

She will share ministry duties with Glide's founder, Reverend Cecil Williams, and Reverend Donald Guest, who joined Glide as a pastor two years ago.

Oliveto's career has been marked by her battle for the rights of LGBT Methodists within the faith. In 2004, after Mayor Gavin Newsom declared same-sex marriages legal in the city of San Francisco, Oliveto was inspired to do something similar, performing what she called "the first legal gay marriage inside a United Methodist church."

The marriage, which took place at Oliveto's former place of ministry, Bethany United Methodist Church in Noe Valley, generated worldwide attention and landed Oliveto in trouble with church hierarchy.

Conservatives within the church were especially angry about the same-sex marriages, though Oliveto pointed out "there's nothing in the [Methodist Book of] Discipline that tells me I can't do a legal marriage of a gay or lesbian couple."

A formal protest was filed against her, and Oliveto had to struggle to keep her position as a pastor. She ultimately succeeded.

"Throughout [my time at Bethany], I recognized the United Methodist Church has very oppressive policies towards LGBT people, and I wanted to affect change in the church," Oliveto said.

Oliveto, who will be 50 in April, was Bethany's pastor for 12 years, working with a congregation that she has described as "half straight and half gay." She has repeatedly declined to discuss her own sexuality when asked by reporters over the years.

While the Methodist church bars "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from holding pastoral positions, as Oliveto described the policy, it does permit celibate gays and lesbians to be pastors.

Church policies seem to be changing, though slowly. At the end of 2007, the church agreed to allow transgender people to hold pastoral positions. Domestic partners of lay employees are also permitted to receive health benefits.

In June of 2004 Oliveto was appointed assistant dean for academic affairs at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. In that capacity she has taught prospective United Methodist ministers at the seminary, a job she said she loves and will continue to perform while working for Glide.

"I love that I get to mold the future of the church," Oliveto said.

Originally from Long Island, New York, Oliveto arrived in San Francisco in 1989 as campus minister at San Francisco State University before becoming Bethany's leader. Oliveto holds a Ph.D. in Religion and Society from Drew University and is a member of the National Board of Directors for the Reconciling Ministries Network.

In many respects, Oliveto is a logical addition to Glide's pastoral staff. Glide is famed for its policy of open minds and open hands, combining non-discrimination with several important charity programs, including free and low-cost health services and rehabilitation, counseling, a comprehensive youth and child care center, job training, affordable housing to homeless and the working poor and nearly a million free meals each year.

"Glide is such a remarkable place," Oliveto said. "It's going to be fascinating to learn more of its history and to see where it�s going in the 21st century."

She said she was looking forward to assisting with "its programs and ministry of liberation and unconditional love."

Williams, Glide's minister of liberation, and his wife, Janice Mirikitani, the church's founding president, have long been allies of the city's LGBT community and have welcomed countless gay parishioners and staff members to their church.

Williams said that Oliveto "brings the perfect mix of experience, passion and commitment to diversity and social justice that has been a hallmark of Glide's work over the years."

Oliveto will receive a salary of $85,000, plus a housing allowance, as a pastor at Glide.

All members of the public are invited to celebrate Oliveto's official presentation and address to the Glide community at two services on Sunday, March 2. The services will take place at 9 and 11 a.m., and each will be followed by a reception.

For more information on Glide Memorial, visit their Web site at