Bishop Saenz names Crawford, Reece to interim roles

David Burke


Two veteran Great Plains Conference clergy will temporarily fill the positions of the departing Bishop Dee Williamston, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. announced Wednesday.

The Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford will be the interim clergy excellence director, and the Rev. Dr. Mitch Reece will be interim assistant to the bishop. They will temporarily take over the position previously held by Bishop Williamston, who was elected to the episcopacy last week and has been appointed to lead the Louisiana Conference.

Bishop David Wilson, who will become the Great Plains bishop beginning Jan. 1, will appoint permanent successors in 2023.

Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford

Crawford, 46, has been clergy recruitment and development coordinator for the conference since its inception in 2014. She previously served for seven years as campus minister at Southwestern College. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern and a master’s of divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary.

“She has a passion for supporting church’s ministry of identifying persons in their midst leading them to explore God’s call to serve God as a lay, licensed, or ordained person,” Bishop Saenz said in a statement. “Ashlee stays connected throughout the year with seminarians and actively recruits new clergy to serve in the Great Plains Conference.

“In her new role as interim director of clergy excellence, she will continue her current work and will assume supervision of the numerous processes and support systems that help form effective clergy leaders for service to God in the world. She will also serve as a member of the appointive Cabinet and oversee the processes whereby clergy from other United Methodist annual conferences, clergy from other fellowships and denominations, and new licensed local pastors enter the appointment process,” he continued. “Ashlee’s gifts, graces, and knowledge of the systems and clergy will greatly aid with the cabinet’s discernment process and serve as more insight to assist Bishop Wilson with his appointment-making decisions.”

Crawford said she was humbled, excited and looking forward to working with Bishop Wilson.

“Bishop Saenz has been an example of diligent leadership and wisdom in our conference in these last years, and I appreciate his discernment to invite me into this role as we prepare for Bishop Wilson to take the episcopal baton,” she said in a statement. “We will certainly have a lot of changes in our conference as we release Bishop Williamston for her work in Louisiana — and the UMC at large — but I look forward to serving with and for the excellent clergy of the Great Plains Conference. God is still calling people to serve Christ’s church!”

Crawford will remain based in Lincoln.

Rev. Dr. Mitch Reece

Reece, 58, has been the Wichita East District superintendent since 2015, Wichita West superintendent since 2017, and dean of the cabinet since 2019. He previously served as pastor at churches in Kechi, Shawnee LifeBridge, Hanston-Jetmore and Gypsum.

“Mitch is a trusted leader, knows the conference clergy well, is well-acquainted with the Book of Discipline, and is highly respected by his colleagues for the depth of his spirituality and discipleship, his integrity and work ethic,” Bishop Saenz wrote. “I have full confidence that Mitch’s effective administrative experience and knowledge of the culture and history of the Great Plains will prove to be an invaluable assistance to Bishop David Wilson as he familiarizes himself with the structure, operations, and personnel of the conference.”

Reece had already been working with Bishop Williamston to cover her duties in the cabinet.

“I think it’s a great honor to serve in leadership in the life of the church in any capacity,” Reece said. “My role will be dealing with pieces that more directly work with the bishop as the bishop’s liaison to the cabinet and the conference. Mine is more the administrative side, guidance side for the bishop and the cabinet.”

Reece, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Friends University and a master’s and doctorate of divinity from Asbury, will remain based in Wichita.

Reece said he will serve as long as it takes until Bishop Wilson names a successor to Bishop Williamston.

“My understanding is that there will be conversation about what that will look like,” he said, “and then deciding how he will proceed with filling those positions.”

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at

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