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John Murray and the Winds of Change
You never know what the wind will blow in or which way the wind blows. The wind can change directions and maybe change your life. It happened to John Murray. As a young man, John Murray had excellent fortune blow his way. He had a fine education, a steady job, a loving wife, and a young son. Life was good. Then, suddenly, everything changed. John Murray’s wife and their son became sick and died. John lost his job, lost all his money, and was put in jail because he could not pay his bills.
John was a very religious man, a Universalist, who had even preached about a loving God. Now, he was not so sure what he believed. He felt his life was over. Friends urged him to go someplace where he could start again.
He sailed for America on a ship named the Hand In Hand. The wind blew the ship toward their destination, New York. But then, fog rolled in and the ship ran aground in New Jersey instead. John and a few others volunteered to leave the ship, go on land, and get directions and supplies.
As he was walking ashore, John saw a farmhouse with a small chapel or church beside it. It belonged to Thomas Potter. Thomas Potter greeted John, gave him food for everyone on the ship, and invited John to come back and have dinner with him that night.
When John came back, Thomas Potter showed him the chapel. Thomas Potter said that he believed in a loving God who wanted to accept all people into heaven. John said that he believed the same thing. Thomas Potter told John that he had built the chapel and was waiting for God to send him a minister. “You, John, are that minister. I have waited for you a long time”.
John did not want to hear this. He was not a preacher anymore and he was determined to never preach again. Yet, Thomas Potter seemed confident that John was the Universalist preacher he waited for and he asked John to preach on Sunday. “I can’t preach on Sunday,” said John, “because as soon as the wind changes, my boat will set sail and I must be on it.”
“If the boat has not sailed by Sunday, will you preach?” asked Thomas Potter.
“If I am still here on Sunday, I will preach,” said John Murray.
Now, what do you think happened? Did the wind blow? Did the Hand In Hand sail away, taking John Murray with it?
No wind blew.
No ship sailed.
John Murray preached on Sunday morning, September 30, 1770, in the chapel Thomas Potter built for him many years before.
The Universalist message of the power of love was good news to many who heard. It was good news for John. The winds of change blew yet again for John Murray. He now wanted to preach more than anything and he did, for many years, and helped found Universalism in America. He is one of the ancestors of our faith home and we, as Unitarian Universalists, owe a special thanks to Thomas Potter. It was his hospitality that brought John Murray back to the pulpit. We also owe a special thanks to the wind that blew him in and would not blow him out.