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Stories : “John Murray

There once was a person named John Murray. He lived in England, and worked as a minister there. The congregation to which he belonged took religion very seriously. They believed in life after death, but they thought that almost everyone was going to have a terrible, horrible time after they died. Just a very few people would get to live on comfortably, forever. This belief was very important to John’s congregation; they didn’t like anyone challenging it.

Now, it happened, that John Murray met first one person, and then a whole bunch of people, who disagreed with the idea so precious to his congregation. These new friends of John also believed in a life after death, but they thought that everyone would get to live together, happily, instead of a few people having fun and everyone else being miserable. After a while, John decided that this idea made more sense to him and seemed like the kinder and better way for the world to be. He became a Universalist.

But John’s old congregation didn’t like his ideas at all. Not only did they not want to hear about them, but they told him that if he was going to have such ideas about everyone getting to be happy after they died, he would have to leave their church. A lot of other bad things happened in John’s life after he was forced to leave his community: he lost his family, and he ended up in prison for not being able to pay money that he owed. When he left England for the British colonies in North America (this was before there was a country called the United States of America), he swore he would never preach or work as a minister again.

At this time, all the ships that people used to travel were blown from place to place by the wind. As John’s ship was getting near his destination in New York, it was blown away to New Jersey, and had to stay there until the winds changed direction. John went ashore to find something to eat while his ship was stuck, and he met a man named Thomas Potter. Tom had been hoping for years to find someone who would preach in the little, lonely church that he had built himself. Tom held the same unpopular idea about life after death that John did: he was also a Universalist.

Tom asked John over and over again to preach in his little, empty church. But John had sworn never to preach again. Finally, Tom got John to promise that he would preach, if the winds did not change in time for his ship to leave by Sunday. John hoped that he would be gone by then, and wouldn’t have to make good on his promise. But the winds did not change, and that Sunday, John Murray preached his first sermon in North America. Instead of abandoning his previous life as a minister, John went on from New Jersey to spread the idea of Universalism all over the American North East. For that, we have not only John Murray to thank—we also owe our gratitude to Thomas Potter, who knew that there were people who needed John’s message, and worked so hard to convince him to share it with the world.

Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.

For more information contact worshipweb@uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, April 24, 2014.

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