A 22-year veteran of the military and current Hays and Salina district superintendent has received the endorsement of the Great Plains Conference delegation to the General and Jurisdictional conferences as a candidate for bishop.
“I feel like I’m a warrior for the Lord, I’m a soldier for the Lord,” the Rev. Delores “Dee” Williamston said after receiving the endorsement at the delegation’s meeting Nov. 15. “I’m going to do what God has called me to do, and I’m going to do my very best.”
A Topeka native, Williamston joined the Kansas Army National Guard just after her 17th birthday, working as a military clerk, then accounting clerk before being appointed chief financial officer for the Kansas Guard in 2000, leaving as a Sargent First Class.
“When I was in the military, I did everything to be the best soldier that I could be, and I translate that to be the best disciple I could be to transform the world,” Williamston, 54, said.
She credits her time in the military for her gifts of persistence, preparation and discipline.
“My time in the military gave me the capacity to be a constant learner with multiple leadership training,” Williamston said. “It gave me the discipline needed to stay fit physically and spiritually — we had a lot of physical tests every year. It also helped me understand that you’ve got to stick with things. If you flunk a test, you start over again.”
Returning to Kansas after several years in New York, Williamston — who earned a GED during her time in the National Guard — attended Highland Community College and Washburn University before beginning a degree program for working adults through Manhattan Christian College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in management and Christian ethics.
She started a two-year ministry inquiry process through her home church, Topeka Asbury Mount Olive, in 1998, and was certified through licensing school in 2002, when she became a part-time local pastor at Topeka Highland Park UMC. Williamston entered Saint Paul School of Theology in 2003, graduating with a master’s degree in black church ministries and evangelism in 2007. She is a doctor of ministry student at Philips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, studying improvisational leadership.
Commissioned in 2007 and ordained in 2010, Williamston served at Mentor and Salina Quayle UMCs in the former Kansas West Conference and Independence First UMC in the former Kansas East before being appointed as Salina District superintendent in 2014. Portions of the Hays District were added to her oversight in 2017.
Delegates for the General and Jurisdictional conferences, who gathered at the Great Plains’ Topeka office in mid-November, agreed that those who received a 75% vote of the delegation would receive an endorsement.
“The colleagues in the room who had worked most closely with her spoke most highly of her leadership, and the fruit that they’d seen of her ministry,” said the Rev. Amy Lippoldt, pastor of Papillion St. Paul’s UMC in Nebraska and a General Conference delegate in 2012, 2016 and 2020.
“When we coupled that with her unique life experience and the strength that has come from the journey that she’s travelled, we felt like her voice and perspective was one that was needed in the episcopacy,” Lippoldt added. “Her heart for the church and her love for God really shone through in her interview.”
Endorsements, Lippoldt said, are essential for candidates as they enter consideration to become a bishop.
“The annual conference are the people who have worked most closely with you, who have seen you in all kinds of different situations — seen your successes, understand the struggles you’ve had in leadership, and know you the best,” Lippoldt said.
The Great Plains Conference did not endorse a candidate in 2016, and in both 2008 and 2012, the Kansas West Conference endorsed the Rev. Cheryl Jefferson Bell, who was not elected.
Candidates for the episcopacy will be voted upon at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, July 15-18 at Woodland, Texas. Three current bishops — Earl Bledsoe of Northwest Texas and New Mexico, Michael Lowry of Central Texas and Michael McKee of North Texas — are scheduled to retire, leaving a potential trio of openings for episcopal leaders. The final number could change depending on actions of the General Conference in July.
Williamston said a group of clergy talked with her in 2015 and encouraged her to consider becoming a candidate.
“I almost fell out of my shoes then,” she said with a laugh. “It was not something I had thought about, honestly.”
By late 2017 and early 2018, Williamston said she grew in confidence that she would be the right person for the episcopacy.
“There’s been signs,” she said. “My mom and dad have encouraged me to keep going, because … they believed in what the church and the conference had allowed me to do and invested in me, that something was going on and that I needed to listen.”
Her father died in 2018, and her mother lives in Topeka.
Williamston is remembered fondly by those in her home church, Asbury Mount Olive, Topeka’s only African-American United Methodist Church.
“I knew her when she was in the youth choir, and she just wanted to do more,” said Oliver Green, a longtime Asbury Mount Olive member and a lay delegate to the General Conference since 2004, as well as for 2020.
“I think she has a love of Christ, a love of the church,” he continued. “She’s had a transformed life; she’s been through some stuff. I think she can help the church move forward, plain and simply.”
Green’s wife, Johne, worked with Williamston when she returned with a preteen son to the church and helped with its new drama program.
“She spent quite a bit of time developing that,” Johne Green said.
“In my mind, she lives a transformed life, a life of gratitude,” she continued. “The conversations we had over the years … she had that love of the Lord, and you know when the Lord has brought you through something — I call it putting your feet on higher ground, when you live a whole different life than you ever could have imagined.”
Williamston, who was elected as a clergy delegate to the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis earlier this year, has a son and seven grandchildren who live in Colorado. She said her gifts and graces include bringing cultural diversity and cultural insight to the conversation.
Self-described as compassionate, tenacious and adaptable, Williamston said she has long been a champion for the small church.
“I believe I bring a passion for the church and for the good news of Jesus Christ in making disciples to transform the world,” she said. “I am a person that is driven to see that local churches, especially in small places, know that they matter. ... I want them to know they’re part of the bigger picture.”
Williamston said she felt gratified by the vote of her fellow delegates.
“I’m surprised in some regards, but humbled and blessed by the Great Plains delegation and their confidence and belief in my abilities and gifts and graces,” Williamston said.