Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray preached many powerful sermons as pastor of First AME Church. (Clayton Everett/FAME)

The legendary theologian served 27 years as pastor of the historic First AME Church of Los Angeles where he led thousands to Christ and guided Angelinos through the pain of the 1992 civil unrest.  During his tenure, thr congregation increased from 250 members to more than 18,000 people. Also, top elected officials, corporate executives and Hollywood celebrities worshipped at FAME.

President Bill Clinton joined Pastor Murray at FAME. (Clayton Everett/FAME)

From 2005 to 2022, he served as a senior fellow of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and held the John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics at the University of Southern California. Also, he was the namesake of the USC Cecil L. Murray Center for Community Engagement where he created training programs to develop faith-based leaders to transform underserved neighborhoods throughout the city.    Murray’s wide-ranging impact prompted many people to reflect on his impact in L.A.

“We lost a giant. Reverend Dr. Cecil Murray dedicated his life to service, community, and putting God first in all things. I had the absolute honor of working with him, worshiping with him, and seeking his counsel. My heart is with the First AME congregation and community today as we reflect on a legacy that changed this city forever,” said Mayor Karen Bass.

Offering similar comments, Senator Steven Bradford stated, “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Reverend Dr. Cecil Murray. Reverend Dr. Murray was not only a spiritual leader but also a pillar of strength and compassion in our community. His dedication to serving others and his commitment to social justice left a lasting impact on all who knew him.

From left are Kerman Maddox, Rev. Leonard Jackson, then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Pastor Murray, and the-Councilman Bernard Parks during a rally at the church. (Clayton Everett/FAME)

“As we mourn his loss, let us also celebrate his life and the profound legacy he leaves behind. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and all who were touched by Reverend Dr. Murray’s life and teachings.”

A native of Lakeland, Florida, Dr. Murray graduated from Florida A&M University followed by a 10-year stint as an officer in the U.S. Air Force.  In his book, “Twice Tested By Fire,” he recounted the incident that inspired his move from the military to ministry after he narrowly escaped death when the warplane he was in caught fire.

“The pilot was able to get out, but I was trapped in a rear cockpit seat. The only avenue of escape was a small hole in the rear cockpit,” wrote Murray.

“I heard a voice, ‘Be still. Take off your helmet. Take off your parachute. Take off your life vest. Moving backwards, stick your head through the tiny opening, then push – slowly push.”

While his actions saved his life, Murray still face skeptics who insisted “that was not the voice of God, but the voice of your training instructor.”

Dr. Murray with civic leaders and Rev. Mark Whitlock, 4th from left, at the groundbreaking for the FAME Renaissance Center. (Clayton Everett/FAME)

His reply to doubters was, “I know that I know that I know. I know the Lord has lain his hands on me. I know the Lord will make way out of no way.”   Accepting his call to the ministry, Murray resigned as an officer and enrolled in Claremont School of Theology where he earned his Doctor of Religion degree in three years.

Murray’s first pastoral appointment was at Primm Tabernacle AME Church in Pomona. In 1966, he was assigned to Trinity AME Church in Kansas City, Kansas. Five years later, Murray was moved to First AME Church is Seattle where he served until being named pastor of First AME – L.A. in 1977.


Murray was preceded in death by his wife, Lois Bernadine Cousin-Murray, whom he called “my dream companion.”  Cherishing his memory are his son, Drew David Murray; niece, Tammie Murray; other relatives and friends, and many sons and daughters in the ministry.

Pastor Murray at a book-signing in 2012 of his memoir, “Twice Tested By Fire.” (Clayton Everett/FAME)