Summer Message from Bishop Laura Merrill

It’s been three weeks since we gathered as the Arkansas Annual Conference in Hot Springs, and I am still reflecting on and giving God thanks for that event. As we move into full-on summer, I want to share some thoughts and information with you. 

Conference staff and other leaders have already held multiple conversations to evaluate our work and to process the feedback that some of you have sent in. (You can still share your own evaluation here.) We heard you say that you enjoyed the theme of “Come to the Table” and the way it was woven through the conference, including the round table format and time set aside for getting to know folks from other churches. We learned again the power of sharing our stories with one another, and we provided our own foretaste of how those conversations might go with new friends and partners in ministry. I have also heard of the inspirational spirit of the laity session, where folks were lined up at the microphones to share the good news of what God is doing in their churches and communities.

The movement from lament to hope was a healing one, and our worship was well-designed by the planners and powerfully executed by our musicians, both in the plenary and at First UMC Hot Springs. Many of you have expressed your appreciation for the musical setting of the communion liturgy we used in opening worship and have asked if it could be shared. The author of those lyrics has updated her work, which you can find here. She does ask that you contact her to use the liturgy and that you share the attributions as indicated. I have enjoyed using this and other musical settings for holy communion for some time now, and it was delightful to share that celebration with you. Additionally, my episcopal address can be found here

The ordination service was another high point. I will never forget the sound of that sanctuary, its very rafters ringing with the preaching and the sound of your voices raised in song. The Holy Spirit was running loose among us for sure! We also remembered those who have gone on to glory, with a good word of hope. We celebrated the faithfulness of our retirees and the joy of new clergy beginning their journey. 

In addition to the work of worship and reclaiming our common identity, we tended to the business of the conference. We held plenary discussions about conference resources and how they can best be used to strengthen and equip ministry in local settings. We examined the nature of our link with and support of the general level of our denomination. And we pointed toward the need for strategic conversations in the year to come, as the transition of disaffiliation continues and the newest chapter of our journey in mission emerges.

Since coming home from Hot Springs, I have passed my six-month anniversary here in Arkansas. I continue to delight in traveling around the state, getting to know you, and growing in appreciation for your ministry. I give God thanks and praise for the stories of churches impacted by disaffiliation who are making new, vital, hopeful strides forward. Congregations are busy with creative takes on Vacation Bible School and feeding ministries of every sort, with enormous impact. Our youth have served on mission trips, kids have gone to camp, and adults young and old have tutored children in reading. To be clear, busyness is not the point, but connecting and serving is. There is no doubt that God is inviting us to do good work, and the people of the Arkansas Annual Conference are responding to that holy invitation! 

“Come to the Table” is a real thing–it is indeed God’s call to us, God’s welcome to us, and ours then to pass along, so that all might have the chance to meet Christ at that table. We are healing, we are growing, we are sharing, and now God is urging us to scoot over and make more room!

I pray your summer brings rest at some point and a change of pace. May God bless you and your churches in your ministry!

Grace and peace, 

Laura Merrill


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