OKLAHOMA CITY -- With the blessings of dozens of Native American tribes, Bishop David Wilson was sent off from the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary conferences in a Dec. 4 ceremony at Mosaic United Methodist Church.
“He made a pathway to You to become the first OIMC bishop,” Rev. Mike Svitak, OIMC district superintendent, said in an opening prayer for Bishop Wilson, who will begin at the Great Plains Conference at the first of the year.
Svitak sang a Kiowa hymn, one of five hymns by some of the 39 different tribes that are represented in the OIMC.
“We have many languages in many of our families,” Svitak said.
Bishop Wilson was elected as the first Native American episcopal leader in The United Methodist Church in November at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Houston.
“We worked way overtime in getting Bishop Wilson elected,” Rev. Margaret Johnson, pastor of Lawrence Indian UMC in Kansas, one of the 81 churches in the OIMC, which also includes a handful of churches in Kansas and Texas. “We are on a new journey.”
Rev. Dr. Joe Harris, assistant to the bishop and communications director for the Oklahoma Conference, told the congregation of about 150 that it was the third time that Bishop Wilson was up for election to the episcopacy, after coming “so close” at the South Central conference in Wichita in 2016.
Harris said Bishop Wilson had “perseverance and stick-to-itiveness” in trying a third time for an election.
“His faith did not waiver even if he wanted to,” Harris said. “Bishop Wilson waited faithfully for such a time as this.”
After leading a ceremony anointing Bishop Wilson with oil, Harris promised that the Oklahoma conferences would have the new bishop’s back while he’s leading the Great Plains.
“If somebody tries to push you around, let us know,” he said.
While several of the speakers referred to Bishop Wilson as “David” or “Dave,” Oklahoma Bishop Jimmy Nunn reminded the audience that it’s no longer his name.
“You can forget everything else — it’s ‘Bishop’ now,” Bishop Nunn said. While fellow bishops may refer to each other by their first names, he said, “he has yet to do that for me, so I’m not doing it for him.”
Bishop Nunn said the OIMC created a climate where a leader for the church could emerge, and he praised Bishop Wilson’s character.
“It’s a reflection of your work, of your strength, of your faith, of your faithfulness, of your stewardship and of your witness,” Bishop Nunn said. “You’ve got the skills and the gifts and the graces to do that.”
The Great Plains, Bishop Nunn reminded the audience, is the largest geographic conference in the jurisdiction.
“Good luck,” he said. “It is an honor to ‘send one off.’”
Josephine Deere, retired director of connectional ministries in the OIMC, told the audience that during Bishop Wilson’s first attempt at being elected in 2012, she and a friend bought a pair of gold cufflinks with the bishop’s crest from a gift shop at the jurisdictional conference, and kept them through the 2012 and 2016 elections.
“I am proud to say I got rid of those cufflinks,” she said referring to Bishop Wilson now wearing those cufflinks.
Deere said she still pictures Bishop Wilson in his first role as a church youth leader, wearing a mullet and clamdiggers.
“We have seen the work of God in you,” she said, before presenting him with a wooden gavel that will be beaded for him to use at annual conference sessions in the Great Plains.
Rev. Anita Phillips, a retired ordained elder, said it was through Bishop Wilson’s encouragement that she entered seminary.
“I think he just wanted another Indian at Phillips,” she said to the audience’s laughter. “When you have more than one Native indigenous person in anything, good things will happen.”
Phillips said Bishop Wilson was called into leadership roles to provide ministry and comfort to Native Americans after the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and following the 2001 attacks on New York City.
“You stand up to hate and testify with the grace of God,” she said.
Phillips also wished Bishop Wilson well in the Great Plains.
“We will pray for Dave, and Dave will pray for us,” she said. “And we’re all going to be OK.”
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