Williamston to serve as bishop in Louisiana
Twenty-four hours after her monumental election as the first Black female episcopal leader in the South Central Jurisdiction, Bishop-elect Dee Williamston is still being cheered on by her colleagues in the Great Plains Conference.
|Bishop-elect Dee Williamston stands with representatives from the Louisiana Conference after she was announced as the new episcopal leader there during the South Central Jurisdictional Conference on Thursday in Houston.
“Dee is an awesome leader,” said the Rev. Adam Hamilton, chair of the Great Plains delegation. “It was so fun to watch every one of the delegations say ‘We want Dee as our bishop.’”
Williamston, 57, who had been the clergy excellence director of the conference and assistant to the bishop since July 2021, was assigned as bishop of the Louisiana Conference. She will start her duties there Jan. 1, 2023.
She is the first Kansas native to be elected bishop since Bruce Blake in 1988.
Hamilton said Williamston’s election shows the jurisdiction values diversity.
“We’ve broken away from trying to find either a large-church pastor, who would usually be a white guy, and instead we’re looking for great talent we value,” he said.
The Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, another clergy delegate, also said that Williamston broke the mold.
“It’s just exciting that people recognized her leadership, especially since so many people in the room hadn’t met her before this election season,” Ahlschwede said. “She has a different path to ministry than some. She’s not from a family of pastors, and she’s a second-career pastor. I just love that people were able to see her leadership skills.”
A high school dropout — “because I thought I knew more than the teacher,” Williamston said at Tuesday night’s introduction — she earned her GED and is a 22-year-veteran of the Kansas Army National Guard.
Lisa Maupin, Great Plains lay leader and a lay delegate, said she was still in shock after the first-ballot election of Williamston, as well as Rev. Laura Merrill and Rev. Dr. David Wilson.
“It’s unreal, right?” Maupin said. “We finally got it right. I think about how the Great Plains, whether we knew it or not, was building the foundation for this to happen.”
Maupin gave part of the credit for Williamston’s rise to the mentorship of Rev. Cheryl Jefferson Bell, who had two campaigns for bishop. Bell is a clergy delegate to the jurisdictional conference.
“We wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for Cheryl running,” Maupin said. “It means a lot for the jurisdiction. It means a lot for women. It means so much for our women of color. To be able to today, look at that stage and look at what the College of Bishops looks like now, then I knew we did it right.”
Williamston and Merrill, who was assigned to the Arkansas Conference, are the fourth and fifth women to be elected bishops in the 50-year history of the South Central Jurisdiction. It’s the first time two women have been elected at the same South Central Jurisdictional conference.
Chaos reigned in the sanctuary of Houston First UMC West as the unprecedented election of three candidates for bishop was announced.
“It was a huge response,” Hamilton said. “Clearly from the Great Plains folks but everyone else, too. In addition to electing someone everyone wanted to be bishop, we elected the first African-American woman.”
Ahlschwede and Bell prayed with Williamston before the announcement, and Ahlschwede said Williamston was nearly in shock when the announcement was made.
“We heard her name, and it was amazing, and to hear Laura and David’s names at the same time was incredible,” she said. “I heard myself saying, ‘Dee you have to stand up, they’re coming to get you.’
“There was an amazing feeling in the room,” Ahlschwede added. “I don’t think I ever felt anything like it.”
A veteran of six jurisdictional conferences, Hamilton said the 2022 edition was “very exciting and uplifting and hopeful.”
“The spirit of this entire jurisdictional conference has been different. It was positive, it was hopeful, it was inclusive,” he said. “There wasn’t the wrangling behind closed doors that often happens at these things.”
Hamilton said he was encouraged by the number of young delegates in the room.
“It recognizes we’re being intentional about looking at the next generation,” he said. “I will be retiring in eight years. We’re looking at people who have another 20 or 30 or more years to serve.”
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