View from the Mountain Sky: An Odyssey Experience

As you may know, I have had quite the wild ride these past eight months. I went from a Computer Science student not sure of his career path to a Religious Studies student with a plan to become an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church as a communicator and technological advocate and educator, and all of this thanks, in part, to an amazing experience interning with the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church (if you haven’t read any of my writings on that experience, click here). However, as I’ve continued to grapple with that internship, as well as my personal faith development in the context of being a minister as opposed to being a layperson, I’ve come to realize that there is a lot more that I want to learn and experience when it comes to the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of people outside of my home state and region. Plus, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that Hendrix affords me, such as the Odyssey program, while I still have the opportunity to. Therefore, after much discussion with Rev. J.J. Whitney, Hendrix’s chaplain, and quite a few emails, I am very excited to announce that I have been approved to conduct an Odyssey project entitled “View From the Mountain Sky: Serving and Interning in the Mountain Sky Area of the United Methodist Church”.

“What is the Mountain Sky Area?” you may be asking yourself. Well, instead of being a singular conference, it is what’s known as an “episcopal area,” with two conferences (the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences) sharing a bishop in a four state area (Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming, plus one church in Idaho). Situated on the edge of the Western Jurisdiction, and headquartered in Denver, it certainly fit the definition of “outside my state and region.” However, beyond being in the Western United States, and besides the fact that it covers a four-state area rather than just one, there is something else that sets the Mountain Sky Area apart from any other conference or area in the United Methodist Church, and that is their bishop, Karen Oliveto.

Bishop Oliveto, elected to the episcopacy in 2016, is the United Methodist Church’s first openly lesbian and married bishop. Her appointment to the Mountain Sky Area has been surrounded in controversy since it was announced, given that it is considered a violation of the Book of Discipline, the laws governing the United Methodist Church, and it remains one of the key issues that the internal denomination administration, the General Conference, has been focusing on, especially with the recent formation of the “Commission on a Way Forward,” a committee designed to conduct “a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.” Currently, Bishop Oliveto remains at her appointment and will for the foreseeable future.

Now, what does any of the above have to do with my project? Well, part of the reason I wanted to spend time working in the Mountain Sky Area is because it is at the center of the current crossroads of the United Methodist Church. I feel that it is important for me to spend time there, as it will provide a glimpse into a potential future of the United Methodist Church as a whole, one that within a few short years I may be serving in full-time. In addition, I foresee learning not only the intricacies of serving in an area with resources stretched over a larger area, including the ways in which ministry can be accomplished on smaller time and monetary budgets, but again seeing a different side of the denomination of which I have been a long-time member, in an area with people with different physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. With recent cultural and political shifts in the United States (including the nationwide legalization of gay marriage) combined with a shift in population center in the United Methodist Church from the United States to Africa and the Philippines, the United Methodist Church will have to adapt to those shifts in a way that keeps the continuity and relevance of the denomination without compromising the values and beliefs on which it was built. To that end, this experience within the Mountain Sky Area will assist in my learning of both goals in a way that will directly apply to my career and ministry path.

In conducting this project, I will be working with two different United Methodist organizations:

  1. I will be serving as an intern with the Mountain Sky Area’s conferences in their communications department, in a very similar role to the one I was in with the Arkansas Conference. This will be a great opportunity to experience the line of work I wish to pursue, in a different context with different churches and people.
  2. I also plan to serve a local church in the Denver area as a volunteer with their ministries, potentially in (and not limited to) the fields of social justice, poverty alleviation, healthcare, and other areas. I feel that this experience will also play a vital role in my discernment on my calling to be a Deacon in the United Methodist Church. This detail has not been finalized, but I hope to know more in the coming days and months.

If you’re interested in keeping up with this project, there are two ways you’ll be able to do that:

  1. My blog, Mountain Sky Views, will be providing weekly updates on not only my work for the week, but also my thoughts and opinions about outside news and events related to and affecting the Mountain Sky Area’s objective, mission, and operations.
  2. I will also have an Instagram account (@mountainskyviews) that will be a more “in the moment” account of my work and of the people and places that I will be interacting with.

Now, I do want to be on record as saying that I know that there will be people that take issue with the project, especially given the controversy of the Mountain Sky Area within the United Methodist Church currently, and the talks of schism that the area has brought. While I don’t want to see a schism in the church, and I realize that the Area is a very, very controversial topic, I believe that it’s important that we work to understand both sides (regardless of the one we support) and continue to work together in mission and ministry to the world as a united Church, and how to do both is part of why I’m doing this whole project.

In closing, I want to thank everyone at Hendrix College and in the Mountain Sky Area for their support, especially J.J., who made the introductions that got the ball rolling on this whole project. I look forward to what the future holds in May 2017.

Until next time,
Jacob

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