Brought up in Belfast, the 58-year-old received the most votes from the Church’s 19 presbyteries when they met in various locations across Ireland this evening. Mr Murray, who has been minister of the County Antrim congregation since 2016, will be the denomination’s 179th Moderator since 1840.
Mr Murray was one of five nominees for the Church to choose from this year, which traditionally elects the Moderator-Designate on the first Tuesday in February. He will be formally elected as Moderator by the Church’s General Assembly in June. Until then he will be known as the Moderator-Designate and continue to serve his congregation in Drumreagh.
Speaking about his election, Mr Murray said, “I feel humbled to be called to this office, yet also privileged, and with God’s help, I will endeavour to represent the Church and the Lord to the best of my ability. My desire is to be committed to the Word of God in everything and my request is that people remember me in prayer throughout my year in office.”
Alongside Mr Murray, this year’s nominees were his ministerial colleagues, Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Richard Kerr, minister of Templepatrick Presbyterian Church in County Antrim, Rev Gary McDowell, minister of Greystones Presbyterian Church in County Wicklow, and Rev Mairisíne Stanfield, minister of First Presbyterian Church, Bangor in County Down.
Each received the following votes:
- Rev Richard Murray 9 votes: The Presbyteries of Armagh, Ballymena, Coleraine & Limavady, Down, Iveagh, Newry, Omagh, Route, Tyrone
- Rev Trevor Gribben 5 votes: The Presbyteries of East Belfast, Carrickfergus, Derry & Donegal, Dromore, Dublin & Munster
- Rev Richard Kerr 3 votes: The Presbyteries of North Belfast, Monaghan, Templepatrick
- Rev Gary McDowell 0 votes
- Rev Mairisíne Stanfield 2 votes: The Presbyteries of Ards and South Belfast.
As a boy, Mr Murray attended Suffolk Primary School in Belfast and Suffolk Presbyterian Church. Due to The Troubles, the family moved to Finaghy on the outskirts of the city, becoming members of Lowe Memorial Presbyterian Church, which he considers his ‘home church’.
Having attended Wallace High School in Lisburn, he started his first full-time job with Arthur Guinness & Co. in Belfast as a distribution clerk, where he worked for 3 years before moving to Ulster Bank in Lisburn, where he was a clerk. In 1989 he went to Queen’s University, Belfast where he graduated in 1992 with a BA in Ancient History and Social and Economic History.
PCI’s Union Theological College beckoned and in 1995 he gained his Batchelor of Divinity, the same year that he was licensed as a minister of the gospel in Lowe Memorial. He then served as assistant minister in Terrace Row Presbyterian in Coleraine for three years before moving to Hilltown and Clonduff Presbyterian Churches, near Rathfriland in County Down, where he was ordained in 1997.
In 2005 Mr Murray was called to Connor Presbyterian Church near Ballymena, where he served as minister for 11 years. He became minister of Drumreagh and Dromore Presbyterian Churches, a joint charge, in 2016 with Dromore Presbyterian amalgamating with Drumreagh last year.
Speaking personally about his journey of faith, Mr Murray said, “Growing up I had understood and responded to the gospel through the work of Christian Endeavour, but during my teenage years I had moved very far from God. However, in 1986 through the preaching of Derick Bingham at the Crescent Church in Belfast, God came into my life in a life-changing way.
“I immediately sensed that God would call me to preach and over time I began to be invited to speak at different Christian meetings. The ‘tipping point’, if I can call it that, was one day when I heard the text, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”. I did launch out, and here I am!”
Today he ministers to around 360 families in the rural County Antrim congregation totalling around 850 people. “We are in the country and surrounded by countryside, although Drumreagh has the village of Bendooragh nearby and is only two miles from Ballymoney. We seek to make an impact through living out the gospel in workplaces, schools, neighbourhoods and sports fields.
“We also have Sunday School, PW, youth club, Parents & Tots, BB and GB as well as other organisations. We have a friendly evangelical ethos and seek to welcome all people in the understanding that sheep without a shepherd are sought by God,” Mr Murray said.
In preaching, teaching and proclaiming the good news of God’s saving grace, Mr Murray said that a number of people had influenced him, and his ministry over the years. Rev Dr Alan Flavelle, his minister growing up for example. Derick Bingham and his ‘Tuesday Night at the Crescent’, along with his father-in-law, the former Moderator, Very Rev Dr David McGaughey, “who preached often with tears in his eyes and coupled that preaching with a warm pastoral heart. I am indebted to these and many others I could mention who modelled godly and faithful ministry.”
Describing his own ministry, Mr Murray said, “My heart is to reach out to people through the preaching of the whole counsel of God, much as Paul said to the Corinthians, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Thinking about his forthcoming year in office, Mr Murray said, “As Christians we have responded to the greatest news of all, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. This grace and love of Christ then compels us, out of a sense of gratitude, to serve God and people for we know that faith without deeds is dead. This is a witness to the life changing power of the gospel and I am looking forward to seeing what God is doing in our congregations and further afield as the gospel message spreads,” Mr Murray said.
“Having said that, I will feel keenly the loss of weekly fellowship in Drumreagh, as I step aside from June for the following 12 months. However, I recognise this as a call of God and go forward in faith believing that the Lord Himself will be my rear guard.
“In travelling around congregations and further afield, I would like to encourage ministers and leaders that their labour in the Lord is not in vain. The Church faces many challenges, one of which is reaching the vast swathes of people who have little or no interest in the gospel,” he said.
When he is not in the pulpit, or visiting members of his congregation, Mr Murray serves on the Northern Ireland Committee of the missionary organisation the Middle East Reformed Fellowship, and has taught for a term at their facility in Lokichoggio in Kenya. He enjoys reading historical biographies and along with his wife Lynn, a Coleraine GP, they are 'compulsive walkers” and like to relax with long walks at the seaside. Their son Andrew runs his own AV business, who along with his wife, is a member of Abbot’s Cross Presbyterian Church.
Mr Murray will be officially nominated to this year’s General Assembly when it gathers in Belfast in the third full week of June, succeeding the current Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, who will continue in office until then. Given the reforms that the General Assembly agreed last year to its proceedings, he will not be formally elected and installed as Moderator on a traditional ‘Opening Night’. His installation will take place later on during the Assembly.
Photos (1) Rev Richard Murrary, minister of Drumreaghy Presbyterian Church near Ballymoney (2) the Moderator's 1905 Chair that he will be installed in come this June's General Assembly and (3) Mr Murray's church, where he has been minister since 2016.