United Methodist Church elects first Native American bishop

David Wilson
The Rev. David Wilson speaks at a press conference held shortly after he was elected the first Native American bishop in the history of The United Methodist Church on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. |

A regional body of The United Methodist Church has elected the first Native American bishop in the history of the mainline Protestant denomination.

The Rev. David Wilson, assistant to the bishop of the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, was elected Wednesday as a bishop in the UMC South Central Jurisdictional Conference.

Delegates meeting in Houston, Texas, chose the 59-year-old Wilson on the first ballot, with him getting 92 votes out of 151 valid ballots cast, passing the minimum requirement of 77 votes, or 60%, reported UM News.

Wilson had previously served as a conference superintendent for 19 years, lead coordinator for the North Oklahoma City Native American Ministry for eight years, and director of promotions and interpretations for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference for seven years. He also served as a pastor of a couple of churches in Oklahoma, and as campus minister for the Native American Campus Ministry program at Northeastern State University.

At a press conference held shortly after his election, Wilson spoke about the history of his people coming to Christianity and in gradually entering ministry roles in the Methodist Church.

“People ask often ‘why would Native people want to be part of the Methodist Church or Christianity given what’s happened in this history?’” Wilson said.

“When we look at Christianity, when we talk to our elders, the premise of that is so much like our spirituality. You take care of each other, you love one another, and in essence, that’s what Christianity is.”

Wilson went on to explain that after his ancestors were forcibly moved out West, “one of the very first things our people did was to recreate the Methodist churches.”

“We’re proud of being United Methodists. We’re proud of the work we do in Oklahoma,” he added.

In addition to Wilson, other bishops elected by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference included the Rev. Laura Merrill, capital district superintendent for the UMC Rio Texas Conference, and the Rev. Dee Williamston, assistant to the bishop and director of Clergy Excellence for the UMC Great Plains Annual Conference.

Williamston’s election was also historic, as she became the first female African American bishop in the history of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference.

“God showed up through the South Central Jurisdiction to elect their first African American woman bishop,” said Williamston, as reported by UM News. “It means a lot to stand here and represent and finally say we are here and we are not done.”

“A lot of people have sacrificed for me to be here in this moment. It means we are moving forward ever so slowly, but we are moving.” 

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