If you are particularly astute, you may have noticed a glaring absence in last month's issue of SBC LIFE. Starting in January 1996, for ninety issues, readers could find the name A. William (Bill) Merrell above the title Editor on page 2. In the January 2005 issue, Bill Merrell's name was missing from the masthead. The alteration was especially poignant for those of us in a position to take notice.
The absence was not an oversight or an editorial error; rather it marked Bill's completion of one strategic and dynamic ministry and his bittersweet transition into another.
After eight years of invaluable service to the SBC Executive Committee as vice president for convention relations, Bill Merrell suffered a devastating brain stem stroke on September 27, 2003, en route to a vacation site in Florida. One month after his stroke, he suffered blood clots in his lungs and legs, and four months later he suffered a heart attack.1
While brain stem strokes are often fatal, the Lord blessed Bill with a miraculous recovery. However, after sixteen months of recovery, including extensive rigorous therapy, the affects of the stroke are still present somewhat in Bill's speech and energy level.
During the SBC Executive Committee's September 22, 2004, sessions in Nashville, President Morris H. Chapman relayed how he and Bill had met a few weeks earlier to discuss the future. In that meeting, they both agreed that though the Lord had worked miraculously in his recovery, it would be extremely difficult for Bill to move back into the position of vice president for convention relations because of the rigors and demands of the position. Dr. Chapman indicated Bill volunteered to him that, "It would just not be the thing for me to return to that position."
During his report, Dr. Chapman announced Bill Merrell would transition into a new position, the senior executive advisor to the Executive Committee, which would be a voluntary position allowing him to continue to receive his full disability benefits.
Thus marked the transition of a great man who deeply loves the Lord and remains deeply devoted to the mission and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Prior to joining the Executive Committee staff, Bill Merrell had served as director of communications for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in 1995; director of missions for Oklahoma's Comanche-Cotton Baptist Association from 1991-95; pastor of Country Estates Baptist Church in Midwest City, Oklahoma, 1982-91; and, earlier, pastor of Texas churches in Richardson, Duncanville, Palmer, Houston, Waxahachie, and Canyon. He is an M.Div. graduate of Southwestern Seminary and a D.Min. graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
During his years as vice president for convention relations, Bill Merrell was not merely editor of SBC LIFE, he served as the Convention's liaison with its constituents, with the general public, and especially with the media. God's hand was upon him mightily as he spoke tenderly by phone with a struggling pastor one moment and cautiously answered questions from a wily reporter the next.
His knowledge of — and deep insights into — God's Word, theological issues, Southern Baptist polity, the history of the SBC, the issues surrounding its conservative resurgence, and the vital social topics of the day made him an invaluable asset to the Convention and its Executive Committee. His mastery of the English language was obvious in the articles he wrote and edited. His commitment to nothing-less-than excellence was evident in everything his department released. His sharp wit and sage counsel have been especially treasured by his friends and colleagues. While none of these have diminished, they are no longer as readily available — leaving us the poorer.
Commenting on Bill Merrell's new service and ministry to the Executive Committee, Dr. Chapman said, "We value his thinking, we value his heart, we value all there is about Bill Merrell and the contribution he can still make for the Kingdom. We'll still have the wisdom of his counsel, and he will still be very much a part of our staff."
So, it is with mixed emotions that after nine years SBC LIFE says goodbye to Bill Merrell. His insights and inspiration will be sorely missed, and his stewardship of the publication's impact, influence, and ministry will not be readily matched.
Yet, we rejoice that the Lord is not finished with Bill Merrell. We are excited at the impact he will continue to make for the glory of God. The Executive Committee is indeed blessed to be able to benefit from his continued insight, influence, and ministry — and we continue to welcome your prayers for his full and complete recovery.
1 You can read the account of all that took place in the article "God's Mercy …" from the June/July 2004 issue of SBC LIFE (http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2004/06/sla11.asp).