Wilson named as next Great Plains bishop

David Burke

11/3/2022

Bishop-elect David Wilson waves to attendees from the Great Plains Conference after he was named as the next episcopal leader of the conference beginning Jan. 1, 2023.




 












First Native American bishop 'elated'
to serve in Kansas and Nebraska

HOUSTON — The first Native American bishop in the history of The United Methodist Church will become the episcopal leader of the Great Plains Conference effective Jan. 1, 2023.

Bishop-elect David Wilson’s assignment was announced Thursday afternoon by the episcopacy committee of the South Central Jurisdiction as the new bishop of the Great Plains Conference. Current Great Plains Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. was assigned to the Central Texas Conference, where he has served since Jan. 1, 2022, as well as the North Texas Conference.

“I was elated when I heard the assignment,” said Wilson, 59, who has been the assistant to the bishop for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference since 2021, following 19 years as a conference superintendent for the OIMC.

Behind the scenes of Houston First UMC’s west campus before the announcement, members of the episcopacy committee one by one emerged to stand by their new bishops.

“You’ve got all these bishops, even the ones who aren’t new, are anxious,” Bishop-elect Wilson said. “I’ve never seen this side of them.”

Once the Rev. Amy Lippoldt and Courtney Freeman Fowler, the Great Plains representatives on the committee, walked over to him he said he felt relief and joy.

“Man, what a moment,” he said.


 
Members of the Great Plains Conference pray over Bishop-elect David Wilson on Thursday after an announcement that he would serve as episcopal leader beginning Jan. 1, 2023.


 

















Fowler, who is also Native American, said she felt “overwhelmed and grateful” with Wilson’s assignment.

“I’m really proud of the Great Plains now that we are in this moment, that they have decided to take a risk that other conferences weren’t able or willing to take,” she said. “The Great Plains said no, we’re going to live into a new day, we’re going to trust that God has a beautiful vision that we can’t even expect out there.”

Although Fowler has known Wilson for about 10 years, meeting during his first candidacy for bishop, she said their mothers have been friends since childhood. They knew of each other, she said, but had not crossed paths until a decade ago.

“I’ve watched him on the relational side of his ministry, and that’s what I’ve thought the Great Plains needed, to focus back on the relational side of ministry,” she said.

Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, a clergy delegate, has known Wilson for at least 25 years.

“We’ve seen each other at church meetings and just keep running into each other,” she said. “We both just love people, so we’re always in the hallway talking to people.”

Ahlschwede said Bishop-elect Wilson was a good match for the Great Plains.

“I think he’s an exceptional fit,” she said. “He has a passion for learning people’s stories. He loves rural America, and he’s very familiar with our states. He can rattle off the names of not just our towns and cities but our counties. And he’s been engaged in ministry in the Great Plains already. He’s very familiar with our work, and he appreciates the Midwest very much.”

Bishop-elect Wilson described himself as humble and collegial.

“I’m just looking forward to learning from folks,” he said. “This is going to be a big responsibility, and I don’t want folks to think I know everything. I want to see how things are run, jump into the process and get after it.”

He was lead coordinator for the North Oklahoma City Native American Ministry for eight years, following eight years as a pastor of a church in Norman, Oklahoma.

Bishop-elect Wilson served seven years as director of promotions/interpretations for the OIMC, after serving as pastor of a church in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and campus minister for the Native American Campus Ministry program at Northeastern State University.

He earned an undergraduate degree in mass communications from Oklahoma City University, a master’s degree in divinity from Phillips Theological Seminary, and an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Bacone College.

A member of the Choctaw Nation, the bishop-elect said he is looking forward to educating the Great Plans about Native American culture, history and issues.

“The Great Plains does such a great job with social justice, and I’m hoping to expand that to help us understand issues that the tribal peoples deal with day after day and in finding local churches that can say ‘We’ll take that on and build these relationships and see what we can do to support one another,’” he said.

He said his familiarity with the Great Plains and many of its leaders will work to his advantage.

“I know what people’s passions are, and that’ll make it a lot easier to know what’s happening,” he said.
 
Contact David Burke, content specialist, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.


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