Ceremony will celebrate bishop’s past, church’s future

David Burke


Bishop David Wilson sees his installation ceremony this Saturday as a way to introduce himself to the Great Plains Conference. 

“It’s important to me because for a lot of people it will be the first time they will get to hear me preach,” said the bishop, who began his assignment Jan. 1. “I want folks to come away understanding and knowing a bit about who I am and where I come from.” 

The installation ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at Topeka Countryside United Methodist Church, 3221 SW Burlingame Road. It will be livestreamed at www.greatplainsumc.org/livestream and on the church’s website

Bishop David Wilson, here at his inaugural sermon at Topeka First UMC, will be installed in a Feb. 11 ceremony. File photo

Rev. Maria Campbell, chair of the episcopacy committee for the conference, began consulting with Bishop Wilson about the ceremony not long after he was elected and assigned to the Great Plains Conference.  

“It gives our annual conference a chance to celebrate the person that God and the South Central Jurisdiction has sent to us, and it’s also a celebration of the gifts and the talents that God has poured into him that he is bringing to us,” said Campbell, pastor of Overland Park Heritage UMC. 

Although the installation ceremony is spelled out in the Book of Discipline, Campbell said, there are ways each individual bishop can be celebrated. 

Among the gifts to be presented to the new bishop are a hand-beaded gavel and staff, decorated by members of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, where Bishop Wilson served for 18 years. 

“We have been blessed with the historic opportunity to celebrate the first Native American bishop in the denomination,” Campbell said. “These are very special symbols of his office, but symbols that reflect him and his culture.” 

The Cherokee Adult Choir from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Bishop Wilson’s first appointment as a pastor, will sing Native hymns in their original language. 

“I wanted that connection, because the hymns that the choir will sing are historical, hymns that were created when the Cherokee people were being removed from their homelands,” the bishop said. “They are hymns that are over 180 years old, and they have great meaning. They talk about death, but they talk about faithfulness.” 

The Lord’s Prayer will be signed by a member of the Lawrence Indian UMC, Bishop Wilson said. He said Indian sign language is “a little bit different” than American Sign Language, and varies from tribe to tribe. 

“That will be good for folks to see that in a different context,” he said. 

The Cherokee Adult Choir from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, will perform during the ceremony. This is a picture of the group from a United Methodist Women gathering in 2018. UM News Service photo

Bishop Wilson is expecting many visitors from Oklahoma for the installation ceremony — friends, colleagues and family members. He said Indian culture is very family focused, with many family members who are not blood relatives. For example, when his predecessor at the OIMC passed away, his children brought him into their family. 

The bishop will give his sermon based on Jeremiah 18:1-6, about the potter and the clay. 

“I love the passage,” he said. “People ask me often about the vision I have for the conference, which is difficult to have in four or five weeks. I often think about what the church has been through as a whole, what the Great Plains is doing and how God continues to reshape us for the future.” 

He also will pay tribute to his aunt, a Cherokee artist. 

“She was one who literally revived the art of pottery for the Cherokee Nation,” he said. 

The bishop will give his sermon on transformation, highlighting ministries by large and small churches in the conference. 

“I’m hoping to carry that theme into the annual conference and the year into my preaching, transforming the Great Plains community as a whole to see what God has in store for us,” he said. 

Bishop Wilson said he has been asked several times for his call story, which he will not include in the sermon, but may expand on in future sermons at the annual conference. 

“It’s caused me to stop and look back and think of all the things I take for granted,” he said. “I wanted folks to understand the faith context I come out of — the story of our people, the faithfulness, the commitment to Christ, which I believe I carry with me as well.” 

Seven current and former bishops are expected to be part of the congregation Saturday, he said, including local Lutheran and Episcopal leaders. Also scheduled to attend are Ragghi Rain Calentine, chair of the Native American International Caucus of the UMC; Vance Blackfox, director of indigenous ministries and tribal relations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Sally Vonner, transformation officer for United Women in Faith. 

Bishop Wilson said he is excited about the weekend, not only for the ceremony but because he gets to show his family and friends where he lives and works. 

“I want to show them things are good here,” he said. 

Campbell, who was also in charge of the installation ceremony for Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. in 2016, said that she is confident the ceremony will be a reflection of the new bishop. 

“There’s this true sense of hospitality that Bishop Wilson exudes,” Campbell said. “He extends himself so that, even though we are welcoming him, he is welcoming us as his flock.” 

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.

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