South Central Jurisdiction elects Merrill as bishop

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The Rev. Laura Merrill accepts congratulations from delegates at the Nov. 2 United Methodist South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Houston. Photo by Sam Hodges, UM News.
The Rev. Laura Merrill accepts congratulations from delegates at the Nov. 2 United Methodist South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Houston. Photo by Sam Hodges, UM News.

The Rev. Laura Merrill was elected as bishop on the first ballot in the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. Ninety-one votes, or 60%, was required to win the post. She received 99.

Also elected on the first ballot Nov. 2 were the Rev. Dee Williamston, director of clergy excellence and assistant to the bishop of the Great Plains Conference, with 141 votes; and the Rev. David Wilson, assistant to the bishop of the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, with 92.

The delegates and audience at First United Methodist Church Westchase broke into an extended standing ovation when the vote totals were read.

The three were elected by the 160 delegates, an equal number of United Methodist clergy and laity, from the eight states forming the South Central Jurisdiction. The assignments of bishops in the South Central Jurisdiction will be announced later in the week, with terms of service to begin Jan. 1. In the United States, bishops are elected to serve for life.

Merrill, 59, has been Central District superintendent for the Rio Texas Conference since 2021, and on the conference cabinet since 2010. 

Prior to her current position, she was assistant to the bishop and director of clergy excellence for Rio Texas. A former church secretary, she served as assistant to the dean and director of communications for Candler School of Theology at Emory University before becoming associate pastor at a church in Victoria, then pastor of churches in Los Fresnos and Wimberley.

Merrill also served as a missionary in Chile for the Desert Southwest Conference.

She received a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Southwestern University in 1984, and a master’s in divinity from Candler in 1995.

A third-generation United Methodist pastor, she has two children.

Merrill noted that her election came on the same first ballot as that of Dee Williamston, the first African American woman elected to the episcopacy from the South Central Jurisdiction, and David Wilson, the denomination’s first Native American bishop.

“To be a part of that (history) is just joy,” Merrill said.

She said she was looking to God for help in her new task, and she listed specifics.

“The things I ask for are courage and open-heartedness and a spirit of imagination,” Merrill said.

In The United Methodist Church, bishops are ordained elders who are called to “lead and oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs of The United Methodist Church.” Bishops, in consultation with district superintendents, are responsible for appointing clergy. They also preside at annual conferences, jurisdictional conferences and General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly.


Burke serves as the content specialist for the Great Plains Conference. Sam Hodges contributed to this report. 

Find all of UM News’s coverage of the 2022 episcopal elections of The United Methodist Church on our landing page.

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