Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray (Courtesy photo)

Cecil L. “Chip” Murray, pastor emeritus of First AME Church, Los Angeles was a spiritual father for thousands of people throughout America. Our hearts mourned upon receiving the news that God called him home on Friday, April 5, 2024. The magnitude of the loss is still unbearable. He gave his life to people of every age, gender, race, and religion. He lived a tremendous life for 94 years!

He gave everything to his church for 27 years. He arrived at the church daily at 7 a.m., and left at 9 p.m. He was a humble servant. He wore no designer-tailored suits, lived in the community, and drove a modest car. He never sought attention, but the world came knocking on his door! His work ethic was unparalleled by most mortal men. He would visit the sick in hospitals every Sunday, attend public hearings, perform weddings and funerals, counsel couples, attend graduations, and show up to court as a character witness for young men in trouble. He preached three services without a manuscript every Sunday!

The church grew from 250 to 18,000 faithful members. The worship services were highly spirited, energetic, filled with praise, and inspiring sermons that taught people how to live. FAME Church, the oldest Black Church in Los Angeles, received visits from every U.S. President and other local elected officials, the late Nelson Mandela, Louis Farrakhan, the Dali Lama, the late Ray Charles, the late Michael Jackson, Arsenio Hall, Steve Harvey, corporate, civic and grassroots community leaders. There was one Wednesday that the president of the United States invited Dr. Murray to meet him for dinner. Dr. Murray was very gracious to the U.S. president for inviting him, but he declines the invitation because it conflicted with him teaching Bible Study!

April 29, 1992, the city of Los Angeles erupted in flames, looting, and violence following the Rodney King verdicts. The immoral jury decision resulted in billions of dollars lost, over 60,000 jobs left South Los Angeles, businesses closed, property value decreased, and over fifty people died.

Dr. Murray’s voice was a calming spirit following the largest unrest in the history of America. His vision to be “First To Serve” met the needs of the working poor, hungry, and homeless living in the community. The church provided food and living supplies monthly. The FAME Housing Corporation provided affordable housing for seniors and low to moderate wage earners. The FAME Assistance Corporation DBA FAME Renaissance granted small businesses loans, venture capital, home loans, financial literacy class, entrepreneurial training, free legal services, job referrals, temporary jobs, environmental protection programs, and transportation vouchers.

There were serval donors from the public and private sectors. The Walt Disney Company in partnership with FAME donated one million dollars for a micro business loan fund, hired thousands of young people to work at Disneyland and opened the first Disney Store in the inner city. Some of those young people are still working throughout the Walt Disney Company.

After retiring from the First AME Church, he became a professor and the Tansey Chair for Christian Ethics at University of Southern California 2005 to 2022. USC created the Cecil L. Murray Center to train clergy on the “Murray Method” for public policy and community development. Hundreds of clergy and community leaders participated in programs on violence prevention, social justice, public policy affecting community health, and community development.

Surviving Dr. Murray are his son Drew, his niece, nephews, grandniece, and grand nephews. His wife, Bernadine, passed away in 2013. I am so grateful to have sat at his feet as one of his many disciples. I am, who I am because of God and Rev. Dr. Cecil L. Murray.

Rest in Heaven. I love you and will forever miss you.


(The Rev. Dr. Mark E. “Wiz” Whitlock, Jr. in the senior minister of Reid Temple AME Church in Maryland.)

Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray (Valerie Goodloe)

There aren’t enough words for me to quite articulate what the Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray meant to me. He was my Pastor, Spiritual Father, Mentor, Supervisor and a hugely influential voice in my life.

The countless conversations, simple words of wisdom and the everyday jokes about life, people and God are priceless memories that I cherish and will be with me the rest of my life and serve as that internal guiding voice. I’m not really sure how I was so fortunate to work closely with him the last 12 years at USC; but I am eternally grateful.

I will never forget my very first sermon preparation meeting with him. I wrote this cute little sermon, that I thought was pretty descent, considering I had not been to any seminary training. I sat down, presented my five sheets of paper, folded my hands in my lap and waiting for him to tell me what a great job I had done – considering, after all, this was my FIRST EVER sermon to be preached in a church.

Pastor Murray took one of his red felt tip pens and began to slice and dice and X out and scratch out at least 89% of what I wrote. I just sat there thinking, “Oh noooo! This was my best work…and he redlined most of it!” When he was done, he said, “Good job, Joom. Now it’s ready!!” LOL LOL LOL

Several weeks later, I would preach my first sermon “Battlefield Insurance”! And it turned out really well. One can take several lessons from that story, so I’m not going to finish for you, draw your own conclusions. But what I will say, because of him and the red felt tip pen; I am the preacher I am today!

Rest In Honor, Pastor!!!!

Joom aka Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith

(The Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith is the senior pastor and founder of Word of Encouragement Church in Los Angeles.)