The Inspiring Military Journey of Bishop Delores J. Williamston

Todd Rossnagel
November 10, 2023

In the heartland of America, amidst the rolling plains of Kansas, Bishop Delores J. Williamston made a decision that would set her life on a trajectory of service and leadership. Dropping out of high school in the fall of 1981, Williamston faced a future of unknowns, working at a local Church's Fried Chicken.

"It occurred to me I had to do something with my life," Bishop Williamston remembers. "I could not live at home and do nothing but work at Church's Fried Chicken, so I decided to join the Kansas Army National Guard."

In the blink of an eye, she found herself, on the eve of her 17th birthday, alongside her mother at a military recruitment center in Topeka, taking an oath to serve her country in the Kansas Army National Guard.

Bishop Williamston's military career would span over two decades, from January 1982 to June 2004, including a five-year tenure with the New York Army National Guard. Retiring as a Sergeant First Class, her years in uniform were far from just a phase; they were the foundation of a profound commitment to leadership and ministry.

Be All You Can Be

For Bishop Williamston, her military service was not merely a period of personal growth; it was a moment that forged her understanding of duty, honed her skills, and equipped her for a mission beyond the battlefield. The discipline and dedication she learned in the Guard became cornerstones of her call to ministry, channeling the ethos of 'being all you can be' into her service to God's kingdom. 
But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
Jeremiah 20:9

"Soldiers spend a lot of time sharpening their skills and equipping for a mission, and when I heard the call to ministry, I wanted to, as Paul said, 'know Christ and the power of his resurrection' so I could, for the Lord, 'be all I could be' to serve in God's kingdom," Bishop Williamston said.

Over the years, she says she continues to sharpen her ministry skills to serve as a disciple of Jesus.

"I live with the old Army recruitment slogan in my head; 'Be all you can be!' But instead, I want to 'be all I can be' as God's servant. The call I initially had as a soldier? I still feel that call today, but it's manifested into a call to be a soldier for Christ. As Jeremiah said, a fire shut up in my bones!'"

Her story resonates beyond the office of the bishop, often coming to light in conversations where shared service experiences create bonds of mutual respect and understanding.

For Bishop Williamston, every aspect of one's life and experiences is a thread in the tapestry of God's plan.

"I have, on occasion in conversations, weaved my military experiences into my testimony or sermons of how God used and continues to use that time in my life to shape who I am today as a follower of Jesus Christ," Bishop Williamston said. "When I have an opportunity to share some of my story, I remind everyone that God can use every aspect of our lives and experiences."

Wisdom From Those Who Command

Bishop Williamston remembers a specific (somewhat humorous) anecdote from her military days symbolic of her journey: an educational misstep during basic training at Ft. Jackson, where she learned the importance of listening to experienced voices.

Bishop Williamston recalls gearing up for a 4 a.m. run during basic training at Fort Jackson. While early morning runs were nothing new, this particular run was unique due to the frigid temperatures. To combat the low temperatures, the troops had an idea: grab the thermo garments and layer them under their uniforms. Based on the outside temperatures, it was an easy decision! But, to the wisdom of the drill sergeant, it was anything but. His direction was crystal clear, "no matter how cold it is, do not wear your thermo garments under your uniforms." 

They didn't listen.  

Soon, Bishop Williamston felt a creeping sense of regret when she was chosen as a running road guard, a role requiring her to sprint ahead and secure traffic intersections. Despite the darkness and the biting cold, she donned the bright orange vest that would make her visible to oncoming traffic, wearing yet another layer.

"We had to run ahead of the squad to block the traffic intersection on the road, then run to catch up with our squad and rotate," Bishop Williamston remembers. "As you can imagine, by the time we ran the first quarter mile, we were sweating profusely!"

Ultimately, the drill sergeant's reprimand was a reminder to heed instructions. It was a lesson that would stay with Bishop Williamston, shaping her military service and, later, her ministry, "It's important to listen to the wisdom of those who command. They may know what they are talking about!"

'I Found My Voice'

Bishop Williamston also remembers a critical moment when she found her voice. As a young recruit, she stood up to a drill sergeant, declaring her intent not to be confined to what's known as 'KP,' Kitchen Patrol. Instead, she wanted to serve in a capacity that honored her commitment to joining the National Guard.

She recalls going through all of the appropriate protocols to address the drill sergeant and say, with all of her 17-year-old gumption: 'Look, I did not join the Kansas Army National Guard to work in nobody's kitchen! If I wanted to do that, I would have stayed in Kansas and continued working at Church's Fried Chicken!'

Her bold determination paid off, as it was the last day she would ever work in the kitchen. It was a moment of courage that, to this day, she carries with her.

Keep Moving!

In ministry, many of us have what's known as a "call" story, a story that speaks to how God speaks into our lives and calls us to various roles in the ministry. While Bishop Williamston most certainly has a call story, she also has a fall story. 

In the sweltering heat of Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bishop Williamston was among the many striving for advancement, immersed in the rigorous battle skills training required for promotion to sergeant. She remembers taking on the role of leader, set to charge down a hill.  As she and others surged forward, a rock met her boot, and Bishop Williamston tumbled and fell to the foot of the hill. 

Bishop Williamston was not hurt, but she remembers two things.

First, her determination to get back up and finish the task, and second, she never forgets that her squad circled back to check and see if she was okay. 

The incident became a cornerstone of her philosophy, a tangible reminder of resilience and determination that she continues to carry beyond military life into her varied spiritual teachings and role as a bishop, always mindful of the divine assurance that with every fall, whether in life or ministry, God's grace ensures we rise and march on.

"I have fallen, literally, and we all have," Bishop Williamston says. "But we must get back up and keep moving, no matter what. I take this lesson with me everywhere and in everything I do for the Lord, knowing that God will be with me every step or limp of the way in life, community, ministry, and the world."

Today, as bishop of the Louisiana Conference in The United Methodist Church, Bishop Delores J. Williamston continues to embody the spirit of service and leadership instilled in her years ago. Her military service may have concluded, but her mission endures as she leads with the same fervor she once reserved for the defense of her nation, now channeled into the spiritual guidance of the Louisiana Conference.
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