The Rev. Wilbur Choy was a trailblazing leader in diversity in The United Methodist Church as the first Asian American elected as a UMC bishop in the United States.
Choy, a native of Stockton, Calif., served in the ministry in his hometown, the Bay Area and the Seattle region before being elected in 1972 to the episcopacy by the Western Jurisdictional Conference. As bishop, he served the Seattle Episcopal Area for eight years and the San Francisco Episcopal Area for four years. He was president of the Council of Bishops 1983-1984. He retired in 1984.
Choy passed away Dec. 28, 2021, at the age of 103.
Choy earned an associate’s degree from Stockton Junior College in 1944, a bachelor’s degree from University of the Pacific in 1946 and a bachelor of divinity degree from Pacific School of Religion in 1949. He also has honorary doctorates from the Pacific School of Religion and University of Puget Sound.
“He was a great guy and did so much for the church being inclusive of all people,” said the Rev. Dave Bennett, who was pastor of Stockton’s Central United Methodist Church from 2003 to 2013. Choy was Bennett’s bishop when Bennett was previously pastor for a Mendocino County church.
“Bishop Choy was one of the early advocates of what we called cross-cultural appointments, where people’s gifts and talents were matched with congregations where those traits were best applicable,” Bennett said.
After his graduation from University of the Pacific, Choy led the congregation of Stockton’s Chinese Methodist Church including a merger with St. Mark’s Methodist Church, which had white and Black members.
Choy continued to have ties to his alma mater and the city of Stockton. He served as a regent from 1981 to 1984 and was included in author Sylvia Sun Minnick’s historical book “The Chinese Community of Stockton.”
Choy married Grace Ying Hom in 1940 and they had four children. Grace Choy died in 1977. In 1982, Choy married Nancy (Yamasaki) Adachi-Osawa, a United Methodist pastor.
This content was published on Jan. 20, 2023. United Methodist Communications contact is Joe Iovino.