Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” That this is still true is one of the challenges Dr. Stephen Butler Murray plans to tackle as incoming president of the Ecumenical Theological Seminary.
“It’s part of our mission and our ministry as an educational institution,” says Dr. Murray who will celebrate his inauguration this Saturday. “Detroit is wonderfully multicultural. It’s important for our ministers to have the skills and the compassion to work with their neighbors.”
Dr. Murray stresses the importance of reaching across geographical lines to bring together the churches of the cities and the suburbs. “We’ve really tried to bridge that gap for the churches and for our students.” Working from a faith perspective and a social justice perspective, ETS has recently coordinated an open forum about the water shut off crisis and the Ferguson and Staten Island verdicts.
“This is a place where church can’t be just that nice thing you do for an hour on Sunday morning,” says Murray. “The churches have to be agents of change in the communities. It’s where people invest their time and their passion and their beliefs. And we need to be able to train people to go out and lead these communities.”
This weekend, the ETS community and the metro Detroit community will celebrate the beginning of Dr. Murray’s tenure as the fourth president of ETS with an inaugural celebration highlighted by a concert of sacred music. The concert will feature the recently refurbished 3,700 pipe Casavant organ, played by renowned classical musician and WRCJ-FM host Dr. David Wagner accompanied by the MSU New Horizons Concert Band, in a tribute to celebrated organist, choirmaster and composer Gordon Young.
“I am a great believer in the connection between religion and the arts,” says Murray. His own roots were in theater and his resume, in addition to a M.Div. from Yale University Divinity School, and M.Phil. and Ph.D. in systematic theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York, includes an internship at London’s Royal Shakespeare Company.
“I think it’s such an incredible blessing to be in this town that birthed Aretha Franklin and Eminem and has the DIA in it,” says Murray, whose own home is filled with music from his wife Cynthia’s harp. Although Murray has sung in acapella groups and church choirs, he says his wife, a professional harpist, is the master musician in the family. “When I was writing my doctoral thesis, she was playing in the next room. It was a wonderful way to write a book.”
Under Murray, ETS will be ramping up the connection to sacred music within the education program. And this weekend, Murray says that he is pleased to have the opportunity to share his vision for the school in his inaugural address. “That’s an exciting piece, to articulate that to a lot of people who care about this place.”
It is also an opportunity for him to celebrate with people who care about him, including visitors from the First Baptist Church of Boston, where Murray served as senior pastor prior to coming to Detroit and ETS. Speaker Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary and a former professor of Murray’s at Yale delivered the charge at his ordination sixteen years ago. “So, this is kind of a nice bookend,” says Murray. “This is kind of connecting different parts of my life.”
Tickets for “The Sacred Music of Gordon Young” are priced at $30. Tickets for students of all ages are $15. Proceeds will benefit ETS and its many activities. Tickets are available online. Visit http://www.etseminary.edu. For more information call 313. 831-5200 and speak to Ms. Pamela Johnson at extension 209.