A Word from DS Laura Merrill 10/21/22

We talk a lot about living through extraordinary times, moments that feel anything but ordinary, even though there’s all sorts of ordinariness woven through them. Sometimes we use the word “unprecedented,” though there’s actually no time that’s been preceded by one just like it—from that angle, every time is unprecedented.

What I can say about the moment I am living right now is that it is both full and moving. Swirling might be a better word. Some of you know that I have offered myself as a candidate for election as a bishop, and those elections will begin on November 2, at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference gathering in Houston. During the past month or so, I’ve interviewed via Zoom and video with delegations from annual conferences across the jurisdiction (those conferences cover the states of Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska).

Individuals on those delegations bring different perspectives, and they understandably want to get to know the candidates, to gauge how any one of us might lead the church through a full and swirling time. Our conversations and follow up emails have covered themes of abeyance and obedience, healing and church growth, hope and justice. I have been inspired by the witness of the other candidates.

Meanwhile back at home, some churches in our conference have begun discussions about possible disaffiliation from the UMC. The congregations in our district and elsewhere who are engaged in these discussions represent a pretty full spectrum of positions and perspectives. Some have been talking about it for a long time and are closer to a decision to disaffiliate. Others are trying to take time and space to present all the information in a way that protects the health of a diverse church. Still others seek to avoid a vote, if possible.

All these conversations layered on top of each other have called me to figure out where I stand, or how I see from where I stand. In the process of trying to clarify that, I’ve given responses that have been met with both mistrust and respect. My statements have promised too much for some and not enough for others. I’ve connected sincerely with people I agree with and people I don’t, and I anticipate being misquoted or misunderstood.

I also don’t pretend to know everything or have all things figured out. But I am grateful for the opportunity to listen deeply to what I hope is the voice of God, speaking inside my own heart and through the words of other people. It’s a task I hope we’ll all be willing to take up regularly and with humility in the days to come.

Whatever happens in November, I am grateful to be a member of the Body of Christ with you, especially here, in the Capital District of the Rio Texas Conference. If the jurisdictional conference elects me as a bishop, a whole new adventure will unfold, in a new place. If they don’t, I will joyfully return to what one former Austin DS calls “the best job in United Methodism.” Either way, even in this swirly time, the day is full, and it is moving—full of promise and moving toward God’s good future.

Grace and peace,