The Rev. Kathy Williams was already appreciative of the Great Plains Conference for adding the position of clergy leadership coordinator.
But it took the persuasion of others to convince her she would be the right person for the job.
“Anything that we can offer that helps to strengthen our clergy is always beneficial,” said Williams, who begins her new role Jan. 1. “I appreciate all of what the conference has offered so far with clergy excellence. It’s been great during this time period now” during the coronavirus.
Several people contacted Williams when they saw the job opening, telling her it seemed made for her experience and talents.
“As I prayed about it and thought about, I did decide to interview for it,” she said.
Much of the new role will be working with clergy who are in cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments.
“That piece of the cross-racial, cross-cultural part was really the part that drew me in the most,” Williams said. “Just because it resonated with my own journey, my own experience.”
For almost 3½ years, Williams has been the pastor of Holton First UMC, where she and her husband are the only persons of color in the congregation.
“I’m very rarely in a setting where I see anyone who looks like me,” she said. However, “we’ve grown just to love each other,” she said of the Holton congregation.
The Rev. Nancy Lambert, director of clergy excellence and assistant to the bishop, said the variety of Williams’ experiences make her the ideal person for the role.
“She has a history of being effective in ministry,” Lambert said. “She demonstrates the gifts that are important to this position of good, collegial relationships. She’s well-respected among her peers, and that is important in a conference staff position.”
Lambert said a clergy leadership coordinator was needed on the staff.
“Those of us who are currently on the clergy excellence staff are maxed out with our time,” she said. “It’s a need we have not been able to adequately meet, specifically for our cross-culture appointments.”
Lambert said there are more than 150 nonwhite clergy in the conference, including Korean/Asian, Latinx, African-born and Black.
“We want to strengthen how we provide support for those clergy and help the congregations to understand the value of learning about other cultures and increase our conference-wide acceptance … and awareness,” she said.
Williams has had a range of experiences in various church settings in her nine years of ordained ministry.
Her first appointment was to Topeka Asbury-Mount Olive (“I had a lot of exposure to the walks of life of many different people, and it was a very diverse exposure”) from 2011 to 2013, then as one of five associate pastors at St. James UMC in Kansas City, Missouri (“That allowed me some great experience and some context with the neighborhood around that church”) from 2013 to 2014.
From 2014 to 2017, she served as an associate at Lawrence First UMC.
“(I was) able to explore all the different ways you connect to the congregation and different ways of preaching and leadership development, because people are at different stages and spots.” She then was appointed to Holton in 2017.
Williams came to the ministry after 17 years as a school psychologist with a special education cooperative in Emporia. When she and her husband, Earl, moved to Emporia, she said, there were no predominantly Black United Methodist churches, and they attended an African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Hearing more of a call to the ministry, she returned to her church roots. The Wichita native speaks fondly of growing up at Saint Mark UMC.
“I loved church,” she said. “It was the center of my being and everything.”
She started serving as a pastoral assistant at Emporia Grace UMC.
There, the Rev. Mic McGuire took her under his wing and encouraged her call and helped her apply to Saint Paul School of Theology. She became active in a church that, she was told by a parishioner, had years before voted not to accept any Black nor female clergy.
“He apologized to me for that,” she said with a smile.
Williams will work out of the conference office in Topeka. She and Earl, who works as a benefits specialist for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, will live in Lawrence, close to their 28-year-old son and his wife in Lawrence and their 23-year-old daughter, who lives in Roeland Park.
Williams said it was a difficult decision for her to leave Holton because she felt she had built many solid relationships there with church members.
She had just begun to discuss racial justice with the congregation, largely in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police this summer.
Williams said she didn’t want to discuss racial justice with her all-white congregation too early in her ministry.
“We’re at a point now where we’re having some real good conversations with people with both sides open to listening and hearing,” she said.
“People have to know you’re real sincere and real genuine about your love for them,” she added. “They have loved us so well here.”
Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.