Cheers, applause, fond memories and best wishes were constantly repeated during the celebration for the Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray, who retired from the University of Southern California after 17 years.
Scores of people filled the University Club patio on October 20 for a reception saluting Murray’s tenure as an instructor, lecturer, and namesake of the USC Cecil L. Murray Center for Community Engagement. The array of genders, ethnicities and professions on hand attested to Murray’s wide-ranging impact.
At USC, Murray was a senior fellow of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and held the John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics. He was also heralded for creating training programs to develop faith-based leaders to uplift underserved neighborhoods throughout the city. The curriculum, which expanded from the “Passing the Mantle” program, is now part of classes offered at the Murray Center.
Closing out his second career, the legendary theologian previously served 27 years as pastor of the historic First AME Church of Los Angeles where he led thousands to Christ and guided Angelenos through the pain of the 1992 civil unrest.
Now in the ninth decade of life, Murray has no plans to sit back and rest, but insisting, “If I stop working, I may not get to sleep at night.” Instead, his focus will be on helping others – a theme that has followed him all of his life.
“I’m 92 now and I wanted to spend my 90s really working with the 70-year-olds – those who are getting out of prison, those who are losing their jobs, and those who are getting divorced. Much work has been done, but there’s still work to be done or the problems will repeat themselves,” Murray shared with the Sentinel.
However, many on hand commented on the longtime pastor’s effect on their lives. The Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith-Pollard, assistant director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and a protégée of Murray’s, admitted that “there are not enough words” to describe his impact.
“I have the assignment of continuing to lead the legacy that you left on the campus. I really don’t feel my feet are big enough for your shoes. I don’t know what God is doing, but I’m going to do my best,” she said.
“On behalf of the pastors in Los Angeles, I want to thank you for teaching us how to marry the work of spiritual development to community engagement and seeing the needs of the people that we pastor.”
USC President Carol Folt, who noted Murray’s leadership during the 1992 unrest, said that he “took to the streets as a peacemaker – one who would bring communities back together and start the long process of healing.”
Folt added, “His courage and compassion and deep love for the community continue to inspire us today.”
Recalling her 30-year friendship with Rev. Murray, Dr. Michele Turner said, “He’s been my mentor for more years than I can count. The impact he’s had on my life has just been immeasurable. He’s always been there for me.”
Similar comments were cited by Effie Turnbull-Sanders, USC vice president of Civic Engagement and Economic Partnership, who met Murray 25 years ago when she was a law student volunteering at the FAME legal clinic.
“Since that time, I’ve worked to try and emulate the efforts he put forth in the community, whether it’s helping with jobs or helping small businesses, just really creating that beloved community that we’re all searching for,” she said.
Delivering parting words, Murray reminded the crowd to remain focused on the important things in life and not to get distracted on the journey.
“We have come a long way and still got a long way to go,” stressed the Rev. Murray. “And those who are in the way, we have the energy, not to move them out of the way, but to point them to the one who says, ‘I am the way, the truth and the light.’ Thank you, Lord. The best is yet to come!”