Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Rio Texas Annual Conference, has announced the appointment of Rev. Laura Merrill to the position of Assistant to the Episcopal Office. Merrill will replace Rev. Virgilio Vázquez-Garza, who will retire at this year's annual conference.
Merrill's new portfolio will include support for the work of the bishop, as well as responsibility for a variety of tasks related to clergy excellence. Some of these have been carried by Rev. Vázquez-Garza, while others have resided in other parts of the conference structure. Rev. Merrill will work with the Cabinet and Board of Ordained Ministry to ensure excellence in the areas of clergy recruitment, training, credentialing, lifelong learning, and retirement.
Bishop Schnase says he looks forward to working with Rev. Merrill in her role as Assistant to the Episcopal Office, "with primary responsibility relating to the area of clergy excellence."
"Laura's experience as a District Superintendent, as a pastor, and as Executive Director of the Mission Vitality Center has prepared her well for this position,” said Schnase. “The high regard of her colleagues, who have elected her twice as a delegate to General Conference, also speaks to her excellent qualifications for this work.”
Merrill joined the Mission Vitality Center after six years as district superintendent. She served with the El Valle, McAllen, and Southern Districts, before, during, and after conference unification. Before that, she served six years as Senior Pastor at Wimberley United Methodist Church.
"My time as a district superintendent taught me that clergy excellence is essential to developing vital, vibrant congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” said Merrill. “We need the next generation of gifted clergy who are formed in the gospel and whose hearts lead them into the world. Identifying, recruiting, and training these servants will be a central task as we continue to live into our vision as a bold, new conference. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve with our bishop in this work,"
Bishop Schnase has also announced the appointment of Rev. Karen Horan as Merrill’s successor in the position of Executive Director of the Mission Vitality Center. While overseeing the work of the Mission Vitality Center, her primary role in the conference will be congregational excellence and new church plants. Her work will include responsibility for the conference’s role in starting new churches and faith communities and in revitalizing existing congregations.
"Karen is known across the general church for her excellence in starting new congregations and in teaching other pastors strategies for reversing decline and initiating new ministry,”said Schnase. “We are looking forward to her vision and passion and energy in directing the Mission Vitality Center toward increasing the number of vital congregations in the Rio Texas Conference.”
Rev. Horan is currently Lead Pastor at Gruene United Methodist Church and has experience from two church plants in two conferences. She was the first associate pastor of a church plant in the North Texas Conference, where she had the opportunity to watch the transition from a two-year-old church in an elementary school worshipping 300 to a church with two completed building projects and worship attendance of 1100.
At First UMC, New Braunfels, Horan noted, "I got to experience a wonderful mother church who encouraged and empowered me to go and start Gruene. The 10 and a half years at Gruene has taught me a lot.”
Horan is excited about the possibilities presented in this new position.
"I love God and God’s people, and I love them well. That is a gift from God,” remarked Horan. “And in this new role, I desire to look at a church that has settled perhaps in a rut and lovingly remind them who they are in God’s eyes and get them excited about turning toward vitality and new life."