NOTE: This article has been updated and contains corrections from the original post.
By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Dr. Robert G. Murray announced recently to his congregation that he will be retiring as the 19th Senior Pastor of the Historic First Baptist Church of Norfolk, which is located on Bute Street.
Murray, a native of Atlantic City, New Jersey, served as Senior Pastor of Westwood Baptist Church in Richmond, before being recruited to Norfolk to lead Historic First Baptist Church 38 years ago.
Rev. Murray, during his tenure as pastor at the Historic First Baptist, has emerged as one of the most well-known and respected clergymen in the State of Virginia, according to civic leaders, fellow clergy, and members of his congregation.
In 1983, according to Lula Sears-Rogers, her sister, the late Dr. Evelyn Sears-Peevy, headed the search committee to find the 19th pastor of the church.
She said at that time, the church was seeking a new direction and vision.
“I didn’t know anyone else who could have come to First Baptist at that time,” said Rogers. “He brought a soothing calm and peace to our church.
“He is thoughtful and smart. I have never heard him show temper or fuss. He knows everyone and their families in their church. Yes, he has been faithful to the end.”
The Rev. Dr. Keith I. Jones, Senior Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Norfolk, and former President of the Metro Ministers’ Conference of Virginia, spoke highly of his colleague.
Rev. Jones said he encountered Rev. Murray when he was a Youth Pastor at Quioccasin Baptist Church in Richmond.
“He was the Senior Pastor at Westwood and he allowed me to deliver a sermon,” said Jones, who has led Shiloh for 28 years. “This was my first sermon away at his church for an afternoon program. That was meaningful to a young preacher.”
He continued, “Rev. Murray has a voice of leadership that everyone listens to seriously. It is insightful and keen on many issues. He is the Dean of the Black Clergy who has contributed much to Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth.
Apart from his leadership at the church Rev. Murray, as the tradition of his generation, has been a Clergyman who used his voice to promote civil rights and social justice. He joined forces in the mid 80s to stop efforts by the city’s school board to end cross-town busing of Norfolk students as a tool to desegregate the city’s public schools.
Busing was used briefly after the city finally complied with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate its public schools. But forces sitting on the school board, notably Tommy Johnson, the Board Chair, declared that the city had complied in the mid-1980s and that busing was no longer necessary to secure diversity in the schools. Crosstown busing was ended, instituting “neighborhood schools” which continue to exist.
“Faithful,” said the Pastor of First Baptist Church Lambert’s Point (FBCLP), Rev. Anthony Paige. “There is only one word to describe his legacy, and his leadership.”
Paige, who has been the Senior Pastor of FBCLP since 1991, said he was a student at Virginia Union University Seminary School when he first met Murray, in the early 80s.
Paige said that Murray’s vision at the Historic First Baptist of Norfolk was not only spiritual but civic. Paige said Rev. Murray has created a church campus that includes the commercially successful Murray Taste and See Banquet Center and The Ready Academy for youth.
Murray leads a church that claims the distinction of being “The First Baptist Church in the city of Norfolk.”
The 221-year-old church was a focal point of the
city’s Black community before slavery, during the reconstruction, and onward to the 21 Century.
The Murray Center contains the READY Academy Christian School, the Taste ‘N See Banquet Facility, the Renew Counseling Center, and the church’s Administration Wing.
Rev. (Dr.) Murray is a graduate of Hampton University and the Boston University School of Theology, Boston, Massachusetts where he earned both his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees.
He also studied at Robert College, Istanbul, Turkey as a Foreign Exchange Student.
He served as an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in the department of African-American Studies and Religious Studies. He taught Social Ethics and Homiletics at The Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology, Virginia Union University, Richmond, Virginia.
Dr. Murray is a former President of the Baptist General Convention of Virginia. During his tenure, he initiated a $1 million funding drive for the Baptist General Convention Foundation.
According to Rev. Jones, Rev. Murray’s efforts have contributed to the construction of the Convention’s headquarters in Richmond.
He presently serves as the chairman of the Foundation Fund’s Board of Directors that manages the Convention’s invested funds. For more than 21years,
Murray served as the Recording Secretary of The Lott Carey Foreign Missionary Convention and Vice President. He is a former President of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Missionary Convention. He has also served as president of the Minister’s Council of ABCOTS.
For four years, he was chairman of the Board of Directors of the William A. Hunton YMCA, the oldest African American YMCA in America.
He is a member and the host pastor of The Tidewater Metro Baptist Ministers Conference.
For ten years, Dr. Murray was a freelance columnist for the New Journal and Guide Weekly Newspaper, contributing his Church School Commentary, “Notes For Your Notebook,” which was widely read.
He has a printed sermon, “Kids for the Kingdom,” in the book From Proclamation to Practice: A Unique African-American Approach to Stewardship.
Dr. Murray was the Series Editor of the Baptist General Convention’s evangelistic five-volume book series entitled, “Empowering the Church for Kingdom Readiness.” He collaborated with members of his church in 1988 to publish a 309-page book on the 188-year history of First Baptist Church. He also led the Archives and History Committee as editor of the book, The Historic First Baptist Church Celebrating Two Hundred Years of Christ-Centered Ministries To The Community. This
well-documented book establishes this predominately African- American Church as the oldest Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia.
He is married to Mrs. Amanda Battle Murray, and they are the grateful parents of three adult sons, two daughters-in-love, and their children: Mr. Chioke Murray–eldest grand, Garvey Hezekiah Murray; Drs. Yohance and Kimberly Murray — Naima and Nkosi Murray; and Rev. Osaze and Hadize Murray — Lydia Amanda and Osaze Josiah Murray.