2013 John Murray Day Service
On or near September 30, we celebrate the arrival of John Murray on the New Jersey shore in 1770 - and hence the arrival of Universalism in America.
On Sunday September 29th 2013, we celebrated John Murray Day with a 4:00 PM service at our Winchester Memorial Universalist Church, featuring Robin Bartlett's sermon, "Destroying Hells", which won our 2013 Universalist Sermon Award.
As the story goes: After John Murray’s ship became stranded upon a sandbar, Murray and a few other shipmates went ashore to gather some supplies. As part of this quest, Murray met a man named Thomas Potter who invited him and his stranded friends to join his family for dinner.
During the conversation over the meal, it was revealed that Potter had just built a chapel and was looking for a minister to preach in its pulpit. John Murray was a Universalist minister, but after losing his wife and son and being forced out of England for preaching Universalist ideas, he’d pledged never to preach again.
However, Potter asked the reluctant Murray if he would at least preach on the coming Sunday. Murray said his boat would sail out of port by Sunday and so he wouldn’t be available. Of course, ships in those days relied upon wind power and the winds would literally have to change in order for his ship to sail. Potter asked him if he would preach on Sunday if his ship hadn’t yet sailed, and Murray gave in. “If I’m still here on Sunday,” he said, “I will preach.”
On Sunday, September 30, the winds had not yet changed and so John Murray did preach a sermon in Thomas Potter’s church. His Universalist message of a loving God who would not damn anyone to hell—the idea of universal salvation—was welcome news in America and soon John Murray found himself preaching regularly again to larger and larger crowds eager to hear his message.