A Word from DS Laura Merrill 09/09/22

As I’m sure you know, the people of The United Methodist Church are in the midst of reorganizing ourselves, from the ground up. At issue for the past five decades have been the role, status, and affirmation of LGBTQ persons in the life of the United Methodist Church. There are other, connected issues as well, holding different weight for different people. But we are at a point where some of the folks in our churches are discerning whether their future should lie with the UMC or not.

There is not enough room in this article to lay out the whole scope of the conversations and disagreements occurring in our church. What I will do here is share with you the resources that were developed and collected by our conference for two purposes: to make a case for a faithful, hopeful future within the UMC, and to provide clear information about the disaffiliation process. All the resources below can be found on two webpages, both accessible from the conference landing page, riotexas.org. These resources are still being updated, so I encourage you to return to these pages now and then, to see what’s been added.

On the Disaffiliation Information page (named for the Rio Texas Discerning Pathways document), you’ll find a message from our bishop about the spirit in which our conference is seeking to proceed through these conversations. He offers an important word for any person or church considering leaving the denomination.

Bishop Schnase’s message is followed by videos with Kendall Waller, conference treasurer and director of administrative ministries, and Kevin Reed, chair of the conference trustees and member of Northwest Hills UMC in Austin. They give an excellent overview of this moment, as well as concrete information needed for good decision-making that minimizes harm, allows for a graceful exit where necessary, and opens the door to fruitful future ministry.

The We Are UMC page provides links to videos and documents that advocate for remaining United Methodist. A message from Adam Hamilton, recorded at Chapelwood UMC in Houston; a testimony from Bishop Ruben Saenz, Jr.; and Visions of the Future, a video of young clergy from across the connection are some of the stories told there. Also linked are various written resources. Farther down the page, you’ll find Frequently Asked Questions regarding this moment in our life together, some of which correct erroneous statements circulating in social media.

My hope in sharing this information with you is twofold. First, if your church is talking about the possibility of disaffiliation, I hope you will amplify the conversation to include this perspective. While there are folks who are clear about their call to leave the UMC, most churches do not have 100% of their people in agreement about everything. A robust process of discernment allows room for different voices and trusts God to lead. I am deeply grateful for the positive spirit of the disaffiliation conversations of which I have been a part so far.

Secondly, if you feel called to remain with the UMC, I hope you will turn your life of prayer and action toward building a future of hope, mercy, and justice, inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our church will continue to change, in ways that make room for diversity of thought and lived experience, ways that free us to share the gospel in diverse contexts. It is radically counter-cultural in this moment to choose love that bridges difference, as disciples of Jesus Christ, and that is what I believe is God’s call to us as the UMC.

Know that whoever you are, and whatever your thoughts or questions, I am here to serve you. I am grateful for our common Wesleyan tradition, which teaches us to do no harm, to do good, and to stay in love with God. I trust that way will lead us to the ministry God intends for our churches.

Grace and peace,