History, Joy, and Hope: The Installation of Bishop Delores J. Williamston

March 04, 2023

NEW ORLEANS – "We are here!" With those three words, Bishop Delores J. Williamston began her sermon for her installation service on the campus of Dillard University. It was a sermon several years in the making and one that is being celebrated all across the Conference. 

And while 'here' most certainly referenced Lawless Chapel on the campus of Dillard, it also referenced a historic moment as Bishop Williamston is the first African-American bishop to serve the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, as well as the first African-American female bishop in the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. 

'Here' can also represent the long journey to the episcopacy of the one-time Kansas Army National Guard veteran, who served as a technician and eventually became chief supervisor of the account and finance operations at the U.S. Property and Fiscal Office in Topeka.

In 2019, after having served as an assistant to the bishop, a district superintendent, and a pastor for churches in Independence, Salina, Mentor, and Topeka, Bishop Williamston became a candidate for the episcopacy.

While her journey to the election was interrupted by COVID and a postponed Jurisdictional Conference, she would eventually be elected on the first ballot on November 3, 2022, along with Rev. David Wilson and Rev. Laura Merrill.

But on this gorgeous Saturday in New Orleans, 'here' was more than a place or a journey.

It was a series of memorable moments, from stirring choral performances from the Dillard University Concert Choir to a joyful, New Orleans-style second line led by the Pinstripe Brass Band and Zulu Tramps. 

We can't think of too many bishops in the United Methodist Church whose installation services include second line dances.

In some ways, it was a fitting end to a joyous celebration. In other ways, says Rev. Dr. Van Stinson, Assistant to the Bishop, it was a theologically appropriate end to the service.  

"The work of God is often described theologically as a divine dance - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, The Holy Trinity, dancing the dance of love," Stinson said. "From the moment you meet Bishop Williamston, you sense that the joy of the Lord is her strength. Her deep love for God and all God's people, her passionate commitment to making disciples of Jesus Christ, and her unapologetic hope and faith in the future of The United Methodist Church are both inspiring and empowering. And, her excitement to be serving in Louisiana is contagious. I truly believe God is at work in our midst! When the Spirit of God moves, and the divine dance of love begins, we should all want to join in the celebration. So, let's dance!"

Rev. Brady Whitton, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, chairs the episcopacy committee of the Louisiana Conference and echoes that excitement. 

"I couldn't be more excited to welcome Bishop Williamston as the new bishop of the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church," Whitton said. "Her personal story is inspiring, she radiates hope and joy, and she brings years of pastoral and administrative experience to her work. I can't wait to see what the future will bring under her leadership."

Jennifer Swann, the Conference lay leader who participated in the service, said, "It's an honor to witness this historic moment in our life as a church. It took too long. Even though Bishop Williamston has only been here a couple of months, she is already casting a vision for our future which, without ignoring the challenges ahead of us, is rooted in hope and possibility. I consider it a privilege to lead the laity in collaborating with her to make that vision a reality."

Sermon: A Shepherd of Hope

In Bishop Williamston's sermon, entitled A Shepherd of Hope, she referenced The Times Were Strange and Stirring: Methodist Preachers and the Crisis for Emancipation by Reginald F. Hildebrand. 

While the book provides a perspective of Black Methodists in the United States before, during, and after the Reconstruction period, the title resonates with Bishop Williamston. 

"The Times Were Strange and Stirring. This phrase intrigues me and calls my attention to the challenges of the times we are living in right now," she said. "And I find myself thinking about our world politically and socially. It feels like things are going backward, rolling backward in time. As Clara Ester, an eyewitness to the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who also stood in this pulpit on May 31, 1959, preaching the baccalaureate service, recently said on a ZOOM call, 'times and history is repeating itself, and we are nearly back where we began with Emmett Till and the Civil Rights movement.'"

From there, Bishop Williamston took us to the Book of Ezekiel, reminding us how God addressed the practices of corrupt leaders, shepherds, kings, and politicians who were "only keeping the flock for their gain, doing only what they wanted, all at the expense of the sheep who were scattered, wounded, and lead astray; hungry, thirsty and suffering injustice from those who were to care for them."

"Yet in Ezekiel 34:11-16, God decides that God would become their shepherd, the shepherd who will seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and wounded, feed the hungry and thirsty, and strengthen the weak."

"I'm here to tell you, I have been summoned by the Lord sent by the Good Shepherd to be a shepherd of hope for such a time as this," said Bishop Williamston. "There is work to do as disciples of Jesus Christ because the Great Shepherd continues to call on shepherds of hope in these strange and stirring times to offer hope!"

Bishop Williamston's first day on the job as bishop was January 1, which was also the last day for several disaffiliating churches in the Louisiana Conference, having left the denomination over issues of human sexuality. While some might see division and schism, Bishop Williamston leaned on the hope of an opportunity to refocus and move forward in hope.  

"We, the Louisiana Conference, are a boot-shaped state that can be a boots on the ground movement by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we refocus on discipleship and disciple-making, instead of disaffiliation making," Bishop Williamston said. "Yes, we are living in strange and stirring times, but it is God's time. It is an opportunity to put hope in action and move forward for a better and brighter future together as the United Methodist Church." 

"So, are we ready? Are you ready?" asked Bishop Williamston. "Ready to gather the scattered, to find the lost, to provide good pasture and fresh water, to bind up the wounds of the injured and lead the way to justice? I really do care, and I am here to lead the Church in the mission field as a shepherd of hope in the denomination I love, called the United Methodist Church; to make a difference while I have the time. Are you ready? Are we ready? Then, let's go; let's get after it! Or, as we like to say, 'Laissez les bons temps rouler!' Let the good times roll as we march forward to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the Louisiana Conference to transform our neighborhoods, communities, towns, cities, and the world."

A First on the Campus of Dillard University

As much as today's service provided memorable and historical moments for Bishop Williamston and the Louisiana Conference, it was also historic and memorable for Dillard University. 

Today's installation service was the first to be held on the campus of Dillard University. 

Dillard, a university in New Orleans' historic Gentilly neighborhood, traces its Methodist roots back to 1869 when it was Union Normal School and trained freedmen to become ministers. Four years later, Union Normal changed its name to New Orleans University, and in 1930, the school merged with Straight University to form Dillard University.

Throughout the years, the mergers, and the name changes, the school has remained a member of the United Methodist Church and its predecessor, the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Dr. Rochelle Ford, president of Dillard University, said today's service was an important moment that should help motivate our students so that they, too, can be leaders who are living ethically.

"It is fitting as an HBCU college that was founded by the United Methodist Church that Dillard be part of this moment that is creating a new legacy of excellence," Ford said. "And being an African-American woman who is leading Dillard, it is personally gratifying, as well." 

One of the highlights of today's service included the Dillard University Concert Choir. 

For Rev. Karli Pidgeon, a District Superintendent in the Louisiana Conference and participant in the service, the lyrics to the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," moved her to tears. 

"I began to think of our ancestors and the great cloud of witnesses who fought tirelessly for freedom and equality in this country and denomination," Pidgeon said. "To be able to witness and participate in such a momentous occasion is an honor I won't soon forget. Bishop Williamston is not only the first African American bishop to lead the Louisiana Conference, but she is the Shepherd of Hope we need for such a time as this!"


The Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church extends its thanks to the faculty and staff of Dillard University, especially Dr. Rochelle L. Ford, President; Rev. Herbert Brisbon, III, Chaplain; S. Carver Davenport, Dillard University Concert Choir Director; Chief Angela Honora, University Police; Mr. Cortheal Clark, School of Humanities Chair; and Mr. Nick Harris, Office of Community & Church Relations Director, for their gracious hospitality. 

The Louisiana Conference would also like to thank those who have participated in this service:

    • Rev. Barbara Murray
    • Mr. Hoza Reddit, Sr.
    • Rev. Cyril "Kirby" Verrett
    • Rev. Herbert Brisbon, III
    • Rev. Brady Whitton
  • Members of the Louisiana Conference Cabinet: Rev. Dr. Thomas Dolph, Mrs. Jennifer Swann, Rev. Dr. Van Stinson, Rev. Karli Pidgeon, Rev. Jan Curwick, Rev. Scott Bullock, and Mr. Chris Spencer
  • Mr. John F. Smith
  • Rev. Jo Ann Cooper
  • Mrs. Margery Manuel
  • Rev. Katie McKay Simpson
  • Rev. Lauren Frazier-McGuin
  • Rev. Simon Chigumira
  • Mr. George Anding
  • Mrs. Leigh Rachal
    • The Right Reverend Shannon R. Duckworth, Bishop Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana
    • Mrs. Leigh Rachal, Director, Louisiana Interchurch Conference

The Louisiana Conference would also like to thank the members of the Pin Stripe Brass Band and the Zulu Tramps for leading the second line following the service, and Mrs. Margaret Washington and Rev. Jay Hogwood, Senior Minister, Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church, for securing members of local churches in the New Orleans area as our Hospitality Team.



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