The Rev. Dr. William “Bill” Russell Murry died on July 6, 2017 at the age of 85.
Bill was born in Jefferson City, MO on June 19, 1932. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Oklahoma Baptist University in 1954, a Master of Divinity from Yale University in 1957, and a Ph.D. in Theology and Culture from Drew University in 1970. Bill began his career as a Baptist pastor in Shelton, CT, following which he accepted a joint appointment as University Minister at the Riverside Church and as Campus Minister at Columbia University in New York City.
Rev. Dr. Murry held two further academic appointments before becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister in 1977, at which time he was called to the UU Church of Bloomington, IN. In 1980 he was called to the River Road UU Congregation in Bethesda, MD. Rev. Dr. Murry carried out a strong pulpit ministry with a major emphasis on social responsibility, and during his 17 year tenure at River Road the congregation nearly doubled in membership and their community service and social justice work increased considerably. In 1997 Rev. Dr. Murry accepted the role of President and Academic Dean of Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, IL. During his seven years serving the seminary, Bill led a period of institutional growth and revitalization—appointing six new faculty members, expanding the curriculum, and seeing the student body increase from 60 to 115 students. Before his retirement in 2004, the River Road congregation honored Rev. Dr. Murry as their Minister Emeritus.
Bill’s work for the Unitarian Universalist Association included serving as Chair of the planning committee of the National Social Justice Workshop for three years, Ministerial Settlement Representative for the Joseph Priestley District for six years, and President of the Chesapeake chapter of the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association.
Alongside his ministry, Bill labored passionately on behalf of the communities to which he belonged. While ministering in Bloomington, he also served on the Board of Planned Parenthood and helped to start the city’s hospice. Then after moving to Maryland, he became active in affordable housing work—serving as a founding member and first board chair of the Montgomery Housing Partnership, and also helping found the Unitarian Universalist Affordable Housing Corporation. In 1995 he was recognized for his work in affordable housing by the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission.
Bill was also the author of numerous articles and three books: A Faith for All Seasons: Liberal Religion and the Crises of Life, in which he formulated liberal religious perspectives on the question of life’s meaning, the problems of pain and suffering, loss and grief, and death and dying; Reason and Reverence: Religious Humanism for the 21st Century, which articulates humanism grounded in religious naturalism and responds to some criticisms of humanism; and Becoming More Fully Human: Religious Humanism as a Way of Life, which treats humanism as both a philosophy and a way of living with joy and responsibility.
After retiring from the presidency of Meadville Lombard in 2003, Bill continued his writing, speaking engagements, and service as a board member of the UU Humanist Association and the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland. He was honored in 2012 with the UU Retired Ministers and Partners Association’s first “Creative Sage-ing Award.” In 2017 Rev. Dr. Murry co-edited an anthology entitled Humanist Voices in Unitarian Universalism, and at the 2017 General Assembly in New Orleans the UU Humanist Association honored him as the first recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award “for extraordinary contributions to Religious Humanism and Unitarian Universalism.”
Bill died content that his work and his life had impacted the world around him. With characteristic humility and great faith in the ongoing journey of life, he wrote of his own journey:
I have accomplished what I wanted to. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife, three terrific children and many good friends. I believe I have made some worthwhile contributions to the lives of others and the communities of which I have been a part and hence also the ongoing evolutionary process of life.
Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, senior minister at River Road UU, offered these words in remembrance of Rev. Dr. Murry:
Bill was an inspiring teacher and mentor to a great many members of the UU clergy as well as countless laypersons and professed humanists across the country… He is remembered for his authenticity, integrity and the humility and intellectual rigor he applied to the great ethical questions of life… The influence of his powerful sermons, lectures and books will continue to enlighten and enrich the lives of many.
He is survived by wife of 53 years Barbara Wesp Murry; sons Brian, Jon, and Christopher; four grandchildren; sisters Jane King and Ettus Hiatt, and sister-in-law the Rev. Marjorie Montgomery.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the scholarship fund at Meadville-Lombard Theological School.
A memorial service will take place at 2pm on Saturday, August 5, 2017 at the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 6301 River Rd, Bethesda, MD 20817. Notes of condolence can be sent to the Murry Family at 701 King Farm Blvd, Rockville, MD, 20850.