A Word from Bishop Laura Merrill

Last week was perhaps the most extraordinary I’ve ever experienced. At the risk of repeating it one time too many, the delegates of the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church allowed the Holy Spirit to do some big work. Together, we elected our first Black woman bishop in the SCJ, we elected two women at once for the first time in the SCJ, and we elected the first Native American bishop ever in the whole denomination. All on the first ballot, which we were told hadn’t happened since 1852 or something.

I will forever carry in my body the feeling of the energy that swept through that room after our first vote. Bishop Schnase, who was presiding, announced that there had been three elections, which evoked a huge, surprised cheer. Then, although he was planning to call each new bishop up separately, in order, the tech folks mistakenly flashed all the names and vote counts on the screen, and the room absolutely erupted. I’ve told people it was what I imagine Pentecost might have looked like, if all who had tongues of fire resting upon their heads were also running around the room like crazy people. Hugging, crying, jumping, waving hands, hollering. I will never forget.

Bishops Wilson, Merrill and Williamston

Looking ahead, the privilege of being elected as a part of this 2022 cohort is for me a rich and humbling thing. I will learn with Bishop Dee Williamston and Bishop David Wilson, and I will learn from them. Together we will learn from the wise continuing bishops in our jurisdiction, and together we will walk with our churches and their people, through the painful and uncertain days that lie before us. Together, we will also help knit together a diverse body of disciples of Jesus, gathered at a table where we’re always scooting over to make more room and share the meal. And all together, we’ll learn how to listen well, how to value each other in our difference, and how to look beyond our own scarcity to the joyful, colorful, justice-making, life-giving abundance of God, sprouting up all around us. 

We’ll do all of this, because if there’s one thing that’s clear from our conference gathering in Houston, it’s that God isn’t through with us yet. The power God poured out upon us in our gathering and our decisions is just fuel and inspiration for our action going forward in Christ’s name, rooted in our identity and in our purpose.

Now it’s time for me to hand the reins of the Capital District to my successor, Rev. Andy Smith, who will serve as interim DS through June. He has deep roots here in Austin, brings a beautiful spirit, and is very familiar with our work on the Cabinet. I am so grateful for his willingness to serve in this moment, and you are in very good hands.

A friend noted that someplace recently I said I am praying for courage, open-heartedness, and a spirit of imagination for this new chapter. I can’t remember where I said that (!), but I sure appreciate the reminder. That will continue to be my prayer for me, and for you, and for us. And the rest, we will figure out as we go. May God bless and keep you, beloveds in Christ.

Grace and peace,