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Murray M. Graham (1929-2014)

Murray-GrahamThe death of Murray Graham in Moncton Hospital on 13 March, while not unexpected, leaves one with a great sense of loss and marks the end of an era in the Maritime Presbyterian Church in Canada. Murray represented all that is good in our denomination: from his roots in an unusual church in rural eastern Ontario to a lifetime ministry spent in small congregations, which he faithfully served, in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. His quiet commitments, his Christ-likeness, his contagious laugh, and his refusal to take himself too seriously while regarding gospel ministry as a sacred  calling, made a profound impression. Murray came out of Knox Church, South Mountain, Ontario, and was born into a deeply religious clan. His father Sam and his uncle were pioneers in Presbyterian Men in the late 1950s, an organization that held much promise for spiritual renewal in the denomination until it succumbed to denominational indifference. I was student minister in nearby Morrisburg in the summer of 1960 and Murray’s family, whom I met for the first time, gave great encouragement to me by their articulate faith and piety as I was about to begin at seminary. Murray was a 1956 graduate of Toronto Bible College and eventually went to Montreal and took classes at Sir George Williams College (now a part of Concordia University) and graduated in 1963 from Presbyterian College. The General Board of Missions appointed him to their number one priority in the Atlantic Provinces, St Luke’s Bathurst NB, then experiencing economic growth. I was appointed the same year to the lowest priority in that synod, based on how long the church had been without a settled minister, and the unlikelihood I would be quickly ordained as a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary, a school not in high favour but still not the pariah it later became. Ordained that summer, as I was, Murray served Bathurst faithfully for six years, unusual longevity for an ordained missionary appointment. In 1969 he moved to Campbellton for what was described as “an experimental area” ministry combining Campbellton, Dalhousie and New Mills. The hope was that, by pooling resources and personnel, these large geographic ministries would staunch the slow decline of churches in rural Canada. I had tried a similar approach in Pictou Co., Nova Scotia, five years earlier. Exhausted, I left after four years, Murray lasted for twelve years before opting for Campbellton where he stayed on for another six. Miramichi Presbytery was in continual turmoil during those years: Sunny Corner and Newcastle split and there are separatist congregations all vying for the name “Presbyterian.” The Miramichi virus, which I describe in my Stanford Reid biography, proved very contagious, greatly weakening (and compromising) the Evangelical cause. There had earlier been a strongly Reformed influence as both J. Marcellus Kik and Everett H. Bean during their years on the north shore New Brunswick made a profound impact. Murray remained a denominational loyalist though under considerable pressure to secede, quietly providing with integrity Biblical teaching and pastoral faithfulness. Many of us thought that Murray would be a lifelong bachelor but in 1977 he married Phyllis Martin of Moncton who brought him great happiness and provided all the comforts and encouragements of a woman partnered with her husband in ministry. In 1987 he moved on to River John and Toney River, NS, in Pictou Presbytery, a congregation which needed a steady hand at the helm as Pictou Presbytery was riding out the storm of seismic changes in the popular culture and the old Presbyterian loyalties, reinvigorated after 1925, were showing signs of strain as a new generation and a different culture created many challenges in a declining denomination. In 1997 Murray and Phyllis retired to her home in Moncton, summering in Pointe-du-Chene at a family cottage. They provided yeoman service at St Andrew’s Moncton, which was greatly helped after a schism by Murray’s strong evangelical credentials. At the same time, as a peacemaker, Murray and Phyllis attended evening worship (since St Andrew’s had none) at the breakaway Mt Zion ARP Church. At the marriage feast of the Lamb there will be a seat close to the front for quiet, unassuming, and much loved, faithful pastors like Murray.

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