The story of Laura Byrd’s calling begins with the kind of unexpected and crushing loss that would lead some to question their faith. In Byrd’s case, however, that loss ultimately brought her to Perkins, where’s she’s now a third year M.Div. student.
In 2016, she and her husband James “J.R.” Byrd were both hired, together, at First United Methodist Church of Denton, as Co-Worship Leaders for the congregation’s Mosaic Worship.
“This had been our dream – to serve together as co-worship leaders,” Laura said. “We were so excited to build a new worship service, at a church that was open to some fun and eclectic music, with some people who were ready to build.”
Two weeks later, J.R. was diagnosed with advanced Stage 4 colon cancer. Laura prayed desperately for a miracle. It never came. Eleven months later, J.R. passed away at the age of 35. More than 400 gathered at the church to celebrate his life.
“The whole community was shocked,” Byrd said. “It was definitely not what anyone expected.”
In the days that followed, her church surrounded her with love and support.
“After J.R.’s death, I didn’t really know how to function,” she said. “But I was lucky enough to have a community of people — a church that did what the church says it’s supposed to do: love on those who need it the most.”
Slowly, she began to get back on her feet. A Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11, kept her hopeful: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (NRSV) Jeremiah, she said, was encouraging people to plant, build and live despite grief and loss, even when the future was unclear. (She shared the importance of the passage in an April 2021 online sermon; watch it here.)
“I repeated that to myself, especially during the first year,” she said. “I was trying to affirm and trust that there was a plan for my life. It helped me keep moving forward, one step at a time.
“Sometimes crises or tragedies force us to go deeper. I had had an existential crisis. I realized what a gift life was. I wanted to have a purpose-filled life. That led me on a path to become ordained.”
A year after J.R.’s death, she decided to return to Perkins to pursue an M.Div. It’s a return because Byrd had already earned an M.S.M. at Perkins in 2010, as well as a master’s of choral conducting at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts.
“For me, Perkins was always home,” she said.
In June, she will be commissioned as a provisional elder in the North Texas conference of the United Methodist Church. In the immediate future, Byrd hopes to have a pastoral appointment in the North Texas conference. Ultimately, she’d love to work in a new and innovative form of outreach. Inspired by John Wesley — whose ministry was largely outside of the institutional church – she wants to find ways to “draw the circle wider” to include people who don’t necessarily identify as United Methodist or even Christian.
“I feel a distinct calling to do something a little new, a tad radical, to reach people who may consider themselves agnostic,” she said. “A lot of my dear friends are agnostic but extremely spiritual. They have disregarded the church or felt like it wasn’t relevant in their lives in some way, but they are deeply spiritual people that we’re not reaching. I have a heart to go where they are to figure out how we can become part of their spiritual lives and speak to them in an authentic way.”
As she juggles her studies while continuing to serve at FUMC of Denton, spiritual practices help Byrd cope. About three times a week, she goes for a run then stops to meditate under a tree while watching the sun set. “That’s my practice,” she said. “It gets the endorphins going and feel that breath moving through and being connected. It grounds me.”
Byrd writes at SeekingYourSpirit.com. She spends time with her three chihuahuas — Giraffe, Duncan and Batman – whom she adopted with J.R. when he was alive. She’s also intentional about rest. “Rest is part of creation,” she said. “We always forget that part. It’s important to take a sabbath. Rest is redemptive.”
Grief remains a companion, but she’s hopeful about her future.
“It’s one step at a time,” she said. “There isn’t a magic formula. Some days you stand still or step back. It’s not a straight line.”