A Word from DS Rev. Teresa Welborn – 3/12/21

Recently I shared with leaders in the district that I have accepted a new appointment beginning July 1st. Bishop Schnase has introduced me as the pastor he intends to appoint as senior pastor at University UMC in Austin.

I also asked that our prayers join Bishop Schnase’s as he discerns the right next District Superintendent for the Capital District. As you will read below, Bishop Schnase is appointing Rev. Laura Merrill. I could not be more pleased with this news and look forward to all that is ahead for the Capital District under her leadership. Rev. Merrill brings great wisdom and experience to her work and she will bring new energy, vision and fresh perspective to the district. Let us welcome her with great joy!

I continue in my appointment as DS until June. Rev. Merrill begins her appointment as District Superintendent to the Capital District July 1 and we will look for opportunities to celebrate her arrival this summer.

Stay encouraged!

Bishop Robert Schnase is announcing the appointment of Rev. Laura Merrill as superintendent of the Capital District of the Rio Texas Conference, effective July 1, 2021. Merrill currently serves as Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Clergy Excellence. She joined the conference staff as director of connectional ministries in 2016, after six years as superintendent of El Valle District. She grew up in Austin and attended public schools there: Lanier (now Juan Navarro) High School, Burnet Junior High School, and Walnut Creek Elementary School. She earned a B.A. in International Studies from Southwestern University and graduated first in her class from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 1995. Laura is the daughter and granddaughter of United Methodist pastors, both of whom served in Austin churches.
As a young adult, Laura served as a missionary in Chile and with the Desert Southwest Conference Border Ministry in Tucson, Arizona, where she worked with Central American refugees and led immersion trips in Mexico. After seminary, she served as pastor at local churches in Victoria, Los Fresnos, and Wimberley, followed by her appointment to the Cabinet in 2010. She is fluent in Spanish and was actively involved in the unification of the Rio Texas Conference. Her experience working with the poor and in cross-cultural regions has shaped her approach to ministry in fundamental ways. Bishop Schnase writes, “Laura has done excellent work as a District Superintendent, as Assistant to the Bishop, and as a leader in the larger UMC. She has deep roots in the Austin area and brings extraordinary experience to the task of superintendency. She is deeply respected among clergy and laity alike. I look forward to our continuing work together on the Cabinet.”
Laura is a member of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the Commission on General Conference for the UMC. She is a former director of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and a current director at Texas Methodist Foundation and Methodist Healthcare Ministries. She is mother to Joe, who lives in Boston, and Caroline, a freshman at Texas State University. She enjoys music, thrift shops, and daily walks with her curious dog.
Laura writes, “I am joyful and humbled by the invitation to serve the Capital District. In addition to returning home, I look forward to working with the creative, faithful laity and clergy of the district, in discipleship and service to Christ’s good news.”

Bishop Robert Schnase of the Rio Texas Conference announces the appointment of the Rev. Dr. Robert Lopez as the Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Clergy Excellence, effective July 1, 2021. Dr. Lopez is in his seventh year on the Cabinet, currently serving as superintendent of the Coastal Bend and El Valle Districts. Dr. Lopez has navigated the district work with God’s grace, leading during the initial phases of Harvey recovery in the Coastal Bend and engaging the challenges and justice issues along the border in the Rio Grande Valley with distinction. Bishop Schnase writes, “I have appreciated working closely with Rev. Dr. Lopez for the past five years, since being assigned to the Rio Texas Conference. Robert’s genuine faithfulness, creativity, energy, and humility will serve him well as assistant to the bishop. I look forward to working with him in this new role.”
Robert holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees, both from Asbury Theological Seminary. He was selected as a Beeson Scholar in 2008, which allowed him to experience a very unique and meaningful Doctor of Ministry program. It included international travel to learn from other cultures and church leaders, group travel experiences with pastors doing outstanding ministry around the country, and an academic endeavor that culminated with his dissertation focusing on special needs ministry. Robert comes from the Rio Grande Valley, graduating from Rio Grande City High School and earning a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from the honors program at the then-University of Texas Pan American. Rev. Lopez’s first appointment was in Dallas at El Buen Samaritano UMC (Rio Grande Conference). He subsequently served El Calvario in Las Cruces, NM; as well as El Buen Pastor and El Mesias in the Rio Grande Valley. Rev. Laura Merrill shares, “I am thrilled to know that Robert Lopez will be the next Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Clergy Excellence for the Rio Texas Conference. Robert will bring energy to this position, with a broad and innovative approach. He cares deeply about pastors and will seek new ways to support them in their work of leadership and service.” 
Robert has been married to Ruth for over 26 years, and they have 3 young adult children—Gabriela, Robert Jr., and Kerena. “I have learned so much from pastors, church friends, and community friends over the past seven years. I am eager to keep learning in this new role, and I am especially grateful to God for this opportunity to serve the church. I am humbled to be asked,” states Robert. The Lopez family will be moving to San Antonio in June