Williamston selected as clergy excellence director, assistant to bishop

David Burke


A 22-year veteran of the Kansas Army National Guard is bringing her self-described “boots-on-the-ground” philosophy to a director’s office in the Great Plains Conference.

The Rev. Delores “Dee” Williamston has been named by Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. as director of clergy excellence and assistant to the bishop, effective July 1.

The Rev. Dee Williamston, appointed as the director of clergy excellence and assistant to the bishop effective July 1, preaches at a conference event in 2018.

“I’m just speechless, and you can put that in (a story),” the Topeka native, 56, said with a laugh. “I’m here to say ‘yes’ to God, so if God can use me in this capacity, then I’m all in.”

Williamston is entering her seventh year as a district superintendent — overseeing the Salina District since 2014, adding portions of the Hays District from 2017 to 2020 and assuming the Hutchinson District leadership role last year. She said she was ready to make a transition back to being a pastor next year until she got the call from Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.

“I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t even consider myself,” she said.

An elder since 2007 and parttime local pastor at Topeka Highland Park since 2002, Williamston served churches in Mentor, Salina Quayle and Independence First UMCs before the Salina District position.

Williamston succeeds the Rev. Nancy Lambert, who announced that she is retiring at the end of June.

Bishop Saenz said Williamston shares Lambert’s emphasis on clergy development.

“Nancy Lambert has done an amazing job with clergy leadership,” he said. “She has a lot of projects and initiatives that she has established. It’s important for the person who follows Nancy to have a lot of familiarity with what goes on already.”

The bishop said Williamston will work with Lambert after the current appointive season to ensure a smooth transition. The Cabinet works the first few months of new calendar years to assist the bishop in discerning any changes in clergy assignments in local churches across Kansas and Nebraska.

“This will allow Dee the time to become even more familiar with the work of clergy leadership and excellence,” he said.

“Clergy are drivers of the conference’s vitality and mission. This is one department that needs a smooth transition and sustained leadership over time,” Bishop Saenz added. “As Dee is able to, she will walk aside Nancy so when she does get the job by July 1, she’ll have a handle on what’s ahead of her for the year.”

Williamston, the bishop said, is a logical successor to Lambert.

“I don’t think people understand the scope of Nancy’s work and what she does,” he said. “She’s going to help building on Nancy’s work.”

Bishop Saenz said Lambert, the first clergy excellence director and assistant to the bishop for the Great Plains Conference, created a breadth and depth in the position, including training coaches, creating a mediation team for the conference, and overseeing the Transition into Ministry program, as well as leading the planning of the annual conference sessions and the Orders & Fellowship clergy gathering.

“She really looks after the life of the clergy from ordination or licensing to their retirement,” the bishop said. “Dee has a capacity to do that. I trust her. I trust her judgement.”

Williamston said the new appointment does not alter her plans to be in contention for election to the episcopacy as a bishop. She has been endorsed by the Great Plains Conference delegation and the South Central Jurisdiction Women’s Leadership Team. The election, scheduled for July 2020, was delayed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I plan to walk all the way through, come what may,” Williamston said. “I’m sticking with it. The delegation believed in me, otherwise we would not have considered me.”

Williamston is also a clergy delegate to the General Conference, which was postponed from May 2020 to a tentative date of Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, 2021, which may decide the denomination’s future, especially around matters regarding human sexuality issues.

“We already know we’re in a situation where we’re waiting for General Conference and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “If I can serve now, I’ll serve now. Tomorrow’s never promised.”

Williamston, who has a grown son and seven grandchildren living in Colorado, said her perspective on life changed after her 2011 diagnosis of breast cancer.

“Tomorrow’s not promised,” she said. “I found some air to breathe.”

Williamston has been active in social issues, serving on the board of the Salina chapter of the NAACP, advocating for memorial markers for Black lynching victims in Kansas and convening a series of three “A Time to Listen” webinars discussing the perspective of Black and foreign-born clergy.

“She has a pretty global perspective of processes, which is a big part of this job,” Bishop Saenz said.

Williamston’s appointment means a third vacancy in the Great Plains Conference appointive Cabinet this summer. The Rev. Don Hasty, superintendent of the Dodge City and Hays districts, and the Rev. Lance Clay, superintendent of the Prairie Rivers District and a portion of the Elkhorn Valley District, have served their eight-year maximum terms on the Cabinet.

Bishop Saenz said replacements for all three will be announced before the end of March.

Williamston dropped out of Topeka High School when she was 16, entering the Kansas Army National Guard the next year. After completing her high school requirements through the Guard, she earned a bachelor’s degree in management and Christian ethics from Manhattan Christian College, and a master’s degree in Black church ministries and evangelism from Saint Paul School of Theology in 2003. She is on track to earn a doctorate in ministry from Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa in 2022, concentrating in pastoral leadership in improvisational ministry.

“I didn’t have that Ivy League schooling or traditional schooling, and here God is using me in such a way,” Williamston said.

Her entire ministry, Williamston said, has been a testament to God’s grace.

“I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Look what God has done,’” she said. “Even though I dropped out of high school and took me 18 years to get a four-year degree, then turn around and go into seminary after 22 years in the Kansas National Guard, God had a plan for me the whole time.

“There is hope for those who don’t think they have enough education or whatever — God is there,” Williamston added. “God is there all the way through.”
Contact David Burke, content specialist, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.

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