The Rev. Jerry D. Murray – June 26, 1925 to July 15, 2020
Jerry Dwight Murray was born on June 26, 1925, in Maiden, North Carolina, the son of Clyde E. Murray, a Methodist pastor and his spouse, Pearl Burgess Murray. He was a graduate of Brevard Junior College (1944), Duke University (1946), and Duke Divinity (1949). In 1975, High Point University conferred upon him an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree. Jerry was ordained as a full-connection Elder in the Western North Carolina Conference in 1950. In 1949, he was appointed to Ebenezer Methodist Church in Belmont where he faithfully served until being transferred to the campus church in the village of Davidson in 1953. He especially had an engaging impact upon faculty and students in this challenging academic community. In June of 1957, Bishop Nolan B. Harmon transferred him to the suburban church of Groce in Asheville, a parish that he devoutly served for a full four-year term before he was assigned in 1961 to Maple Springs Methodist, just outside the flourishing city of Winston-Salem. He had a successful ministry there and was then sent, in 1965, to Forest City’s First Methodist.
In this Piedmont town, Jerry began to implement creatively many innovative forms of mission and outreach in the community. He had been profoundly influenced by the writings of Elizabeth O’Connor whose Call to Commitment had accurately described the radical disciplines practiced by a congregation founded in our nation’s capital by Pastor Gordon Cosby, a thoughtful pastor/preacher who became Jerry’s theological mentor and inspiration for the administration of a Christ centered church. Through the influence of the polity of the Church of the Savior in Washington, Rev. Murray taught a theology that balanced the inward journey of small group spiritual discovery and the outward journey of sacrificial service. First Methodist in this small town of Forest City was the perfect recipient of Jerry’s innovations because the congregation had recently relocated its lovely facilities, with new stained-glass windows and a masterful pipe organ, in a spacious and dynamic part of town. Forest City was rapidly becoming a center of commerce for the county, and many community leaders provided this parish with forward-thinking lay leadership.
Jerry’s practical theology was the source of his insight for implementing the administration of a local church in a creative fashion, and these theological ideas largely emerged from the creative, reflective writings of the renowned Quaker philosopher/theologian, Elton Trueblood. This Quaker intellectual had creatively applied Jesus’ metaphor regarding the Messiah’s role as a “yokefellow,” making the burden of discipleship an experience of joy rather than a dull life of legalistic misery. Jerry trained a deeply committed mission group of interfaith participants that met each week for biblical studies. These “Yokefellows” engaged in the outward journey of sacrificial service through specific practical ministries that touched the lives of many needy persons in Rutherford County. This creative group began to grow with a plethora of volunteers who initiated an impressive clothing closet, a place for dispensing donated furniture, a center of economic assistance for assisting with fuel bills and the cost for rent, a ministry center that made available home supplies and the distribution of food. The resources of the county’s Department of Social Services were limited during those years; so, the efforts of Yokefellow and the various participating churches were an abundant blessing to the entire county, efforts that continue today. In 2015, Rev. Murray was recognized by Yokefellow of Rutherford County NC for his awareness of county needs and a response in love to those needs.
During the fall of 1967, Dr. Trueblood visited Duke University as a guest lecturer. Attending one of his lectures was a divinity student and member of First Methodist Church in Forest City. When Dr. Trueblood learned from this student about the ways his concepts were being implemented in a North Carolina community, he drove to that western Piedmont town, met Jerry, toured the facilities of Yokefellow, and invited Jerry to become a member of the organization’s national board. This opened to Jerry a much broader context for doing ministry and engaged him in one of the nationally recognized programs, the Yokefellow Prison Ministry.
In April, 1968, Rev. Murray joined a biracial ministerial march of remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. From the time of his youth, Jerry reached across the aisle to people of color, welcoming their presence, and expressing appreciation for their gifts and service in God’s World.
Forest City, during the 1960s, had only a few places where young people could gather. Rev. Murray suggested a Coffee House ministry in the church fellowship hall on Friday nights. It is remembered for folk music, red-checkered tablecloths, pizza baked and served by the young people, and a place to talk. Rev. Murray supported the growth and development of young people in the little town.
Jerry’s innovative work did not go unnoticed. In 1968, Bishop Earl Hunt appointed Jerry to serve as the District Superintendent of the Statesville area, and Jerry began to implement many of these concepts of church administration throughout that region. His insights began to influence his colleagues on the Cabinet and stimulate the quality of missional efforts among many parishes throughout western North Carolina. After five years of visionary leadership at this post in Statesville, Bishop Hunt sent Jerry, in 1973, to First United Methodist Church in Salisbury. Upon leaving Salisbury, Jerry served faithfully the Marvin-Germanton Charge for nine years until needed, in 1985, to help rescue a declining church in Greensboro– Asbury United Methodist—whose previous pastor had broken with the UM denomination, taking over 90% of the members with him to form a schism congregation in the city. While in Greensboro Jerry was invited to speak to men in a Methodist Church located there about Yokefellow Prison Ministry. The Methodist Church had recently published a bible study series called Disciple Bible Ministry. He mentioned that this would be a powerful study for men in prison. The minister who had invited him was Mark Hicks. Several men in this meeting went to a prison in Winston Salem to meet with prisoners. Mark Hicks is now the leader of Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries.
During Rev. Murray’s tenure at the charge outside Winston-Salem, he expanded his personal engagement with the prison ministry component of Yokefellow. After retirement in 1990, Jerry effectively served the Western North Carolina Conference as the Director of Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries. In 1980, Jerry married a high school teacher, Nancy Moore. When Jerry retired from active ministry in 1990, at the age of 65, Nancy was a source of comfort and joy as they made their home in Winston-Salem. They enjoyed traveling, visiting grown children, and hiking in the mountains with their grandchildren.
Going forward, Jerry’s children remember a sermon that has powerfully influenced their lives. To quote from that sermon, “A friend is someone who knows all about you, and still loves you.” How well that speaks of God’s forgiveness and His love.
You can discover more about Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries at this website https://disciplebibleoutreach.org and North Carolina Yokefellow Prison Ministry of North Carolina at https://yokefellowprisonministry.org