Hundreds of people from throughout the country descended on L.A. to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray.
A joyous birthday worship service, hosted by Pastor Rethis Murry and the members of Holy Trinity AME Church in Long Beach, was held on Sept. 20, followed by a reception in Dr. Murray’s honor at USC on Sept. 26. Both occasions attracted overflowing crowds expressing their love and respect for Murray’s legacy.
The legendary theologian, who served 27 years as pastor of the historic First AME Church of Los Angeles, led thousands to Christ and guided Angelenos through the pain of the 1992 civil unrest. Continuing to work in his senior years, Murray holds the position of the John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics in the School of Religion at the University of Southern California.
He is also a senior fellow of USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture and is the chairman and namesake of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Civic Engagement. In this capacity, he oversees the curriculum that has prepared hundreds of ministers and lay people to make tangible contributions to improve their communities.
Murray has also inspired a cadre of clergy across the nation. Many leading L.A. pastors consider him as their spiritual father and some, who worked directly under Murray at FAME, utilize his teachings in their own ministry.
The Sentinel asked three of his mentees to describe the best lesson Murray taught them about being a pastor and to comment on his impact on societal issues. The following are the responses.
Pastor Mary S. Minor, Brookins-Kirkland Community AME Church: “The most influential lesson I learned from Rev. Murray was how to deal with people and myself. The lesson is conveyed in this quote: ‘Never take myself too seriously and never take others too seriously; to heaven with it or to hell with it.’”
“Regarding his impact, in 1992, around the time of the Rodney King verdict, which resulted in the Los Angeles civil unrest, I personally witnessed faith in action,” said Minor. “Under the pastoral leadership of the Rev. Dr. Cecil L. Murray, FAME became the center of activities in South Los Angeles that led to peace and restoration of our city. Dr. Murray became the spiritual advisor to many persons outside the South Los Angeles community, who genuinely wanted to help. He articulated the messages of voiceless, impoverished South Los Angeles residents to government and religious leaders, as well as the world. FAME Church demonstrated its motto: ‘First to Serve.’ Rev. Murray and the FAME Church will forever be written in the annals of the city of Los Angeles and the AME Church!”
Pastor John E. Cager II, Ward AME Church: “Chip Murray’s motto is ‘always try to find a way to say yes’ and it has become my operating ethos. Try to find a way to make things happen. It may take some counter-intuitive thinking and doing it differently than originally proposed, but there is always a way to make it happen.
As for Dr. Murray’s societal impact, Cager explained, “Chip’s genius is in his ability to operate effortlessly and flawlessly in different circles. He could go meet with the Board of Rabbis in the morning, the Nation of Islam at noon and the Mormons at night, making them all feel as if he was a friend and ally. Consequently, that gave him the credibility and gravitas to challenge the Los Angeles power structure after the Rodney King riots. He could speak truth to power and convict one side to do the right thing, while at the same time convince the other side to work with the system, rather than against it, to make things better.”
Pastor D. Najuma Smith-Pollard, Word of Encouragement Community Church: “The best lessons from Dr. Murray? See the People! As a leader, our role is to see people, what they need and how can we help them. Pastors must always ask the question, ‘What can I do for you?’ Be a servant!”
“Also, Dr. Murray set a new paradigm for pastors doing community development and civic engagement work. The deal that FAME did with the Walt Disney Company following the 1992 civil unrest was monumental and a totally new way of doing community development work, bridging corporate America and the Church.”