Williamston reflects on making history

David Burke



Rev. Dee Williamston waves to the crowd after receiving her bishop's pin minutes after being elected on the first ballot Tuesday during the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Houston.

Clergy excellence director becomes 1st African-American woman elected in South Central 

The Rev. Dee Williamston hopes her history-making election at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference will pave ways and open doors.

“It’s been incredible to have the opportunity. God just showed up and showed out for the South Central Jurisdiction to elect their first African-American female bishop in the history of the jurisdiction,” she told conference communicators hours after her election. “It means a lot to stand here and represent and say we are here.”

Williamston, 57, is not only the first Black woman to be elected bishop in the jurisdiction but the first bishop elected from the Great Plains Conference since its formation in 2014.

She was elected on the first ballot as was Rev. Dr. David Wilson — the first Native American bishop in the denomination — from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and Rev. Laura Merrill, from the Rio Texas Conference.

In an unprecedented move for the South Central Jurisdiction and likely for all throughout the denomination, all three bishop vacancies were filled on the first vote.
When it was announced that there were three elections and she was one of them, Williamston said, “It was “almost like a blur.”

“Oh my Lord, oh my word it happened — for everyone,” she recalled of her response. “I was just so caught in the moment, and I heard all three. That’s a move of the spirit, a move of God for all three — and two firsts ever.”

Williamston, who has served as clergy excellence director and assistant to the bishop of the Great Plains Conference since July 2021, said she hoped her election would make a difference.

“Things are moving. Though they are slow, things are shifting,” she said. “The doors are opening up, ever so slowly, but it is happening. A lot has happened for me to stand here, because I do not stand alone, nor did I get here alone. A lot of people have sacrificed for me to be here in this moment today.”

She said it was important to have diversity, equity and inclusion in the bishop selection process.

“Representation means a lot from politicians and pastors to corporate players to millionaires and the Oprahs in the world,” Williamston said. “It means there are others waiting in the wings and the door has been opened, and the door should remain open.”

Prior to that, she spent seven years as a district superintendent in the Great Plains.

She earned a bachelor’s of science degree in management and Christian ethics from Manhattan Christian College; a master’s of divinity from Saint Paul School of Theology, with a specialization in evangelism and Black church studies; and is scheduled to receive a doctor of ministry degree in transformational leadership in improvisational ministry from Phillips Theological Seminary in May 2023.

Williamston is a 22-year veteran of the Kansas Army National Guard, rising to sergeant first class, and has also worked for the U.S. Property and Fiscal Office, State of Kansas food stamp department, American Federation for Television and Radio Artists, and a New York law firm.

She has one son and seven grandchildren.

Williamston, who has given presentations on abolitionist and activist Sojourner Truth, said she believed in that pioneering spirit.

“It doesn’t matter where you came from or how you came, as long as you showed up,” she said. “There are many Sojourner Truths out there that are 4 or 5 years old, and they need representation at the table.”

The first person Williamston called was her mother, who resides in an assisted living facility in Topeka.

“Well, my word” was her mother’s response.

“Mom, you did it,” Williamston told her. “I was put here for a reason.”

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