TOPEKA — Bishop David Wilson invited more than 40 friends and family from Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference to his installation ceremony on Feb. 11, and the love and respect for the first Native American to be elected as an episcopal leader in The United Methodist Church was loud and strong.
“It’s a breath of fresh air, it’s a sigh of relief to know that there’s finally that bridge has been crossed, where we now acknowledge and accept a new bishop that’s Native American,” said the Rev. Donna Pewo, director of connectional ministries for the OIMC, prior to a dinner on the eve of his installation service.
Pewo said Bishop Wilson’s election — on the first ballot in November during the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Houston — raised the profile of Native Americans in the denomination as well as the OIMC.
“That’s a defining moment and a big a-ha moment for us at OIMC, just for us to even think about that and ponder on that,” she said. “It’s something we’ve been waiting for for a long time.”
Bishop Wilson, who worked for the OIMC and Oklahoma Conference for more than 20 years, is and will be seen as a role model for Native Americans in the UMC, Pewo said.
“We’re working on our young people,” she said. “Wherever he has traveled, he has left just a remarkable legacy for OIMC. We know those shoes cannot be filled, but he has left us wonderful examples that we can live by and work with within our ministries.”
The installation ceremony included a performance by the Cherokee Adult Choir from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where a then-newly ordained Bishop Wilson was first assigned.
Among the choir members is Kaye Calloway, a Baptist whose sister was in the United Methodist congregation.
“We’ve known him forever, and he always asks us to come, and we’re ready to go. We’d do anything for him,” she said. “We have prayed for him from day one, and our prayers have been answered. This is so awesome.”
Nikki Ross from Coweta, Oklahoma, has known Bishop Wilson for at least a dozen years and was one of the guests for the dinner and service.
“I’m real proud of him, to see him come as far as he has in his walk with God,” Ross said. “He’s been a leader his whole life. I’ve seen him work throughout the conference. He’s a leader – you know one when you see one, and he really does shine.”
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