Three Bishops Elected on First Ballot at SCJ2022

November 02, 2022
"We have three elections!"

As the words came out of Bishop Robert Schnase's mouth, gasps and awes filled the sanctuary of First United Methodist, West. 

Most observers would tell you that it's extremely rare for three bishops to be elected on the very first ballot on the first full day of the Jurisdictional Conference, but it happened here in Houston, TX, at the 2022 South Central Jurisdictional Conference.

The following bishops were elected: 
  • Delores J. Williamston, the first African-American female bishop
  • Laura Merrill
  • David Wilson, the first Native-American bishop
Below are the biographical backgrounds of the three new bishops in the South Central Jurisdiction.

Rev. Delores J. Williamston

Williamston, 57, has been assistant to the bishop and director of clergy excellence at the Great Plains Conference since 2021. 

Prior to that, she spent seven years as a district superintendent in the Great Plains. 

She has a bachelor of science in management and Christian ethics from Manhattan Christian College; a master of divinity from Saint Paul School of Theology, with a specialization in evangelism and Black church studies; and is scheduled to receive a doctor of ministry degree in transformational leadership in improvisational ministry from Phillips Theological Seminary in May 2023. 

Williamston is a 22-year veteran of the Kansas Army National Guard, rising to sergeant first class, and has also worked for the U.S. Property and Fiscal Office, State of Kansas food stamp department, American Federation for Television and Radio Artists, and a New York law firm. 

She has one son and seven grandchildren. 

Rev. Laura Merrill

Merrill, 59, has been Central District superintendent for the Rio Texas Conference since 2021, and on the conference cabinet since 2010.  

Prior to her current position, she was assistant to the bishop and director of clergy excellence for Rio Texas. A former church secretary, she served as assistant to the dean and director of communications for Candler School of Theology at Emory University before becoming associate pastor at a church in Victoria, Texas, then pastor of churches in Los Fresnos and Wimberley, Texas. 

Merrill also served as a missionary in Chile for the Desert Southwest Conference. 
She received a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Southwestern University in 1984, and a master’s in divinity from Candler in 1995. 

A third-generation United Methodist pastor, she has two children. 

Rev. Dr. David Wilson

Wilson, 59, 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. 

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, Okla. 

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

He received 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. 

He is single.

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