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Chuck Murphy Remembered

Chuck Murphy Remembered

By Ladson F. Mills III
Special to Virtueonline
January 16, 2018

Revolutions eventually turn on their own. Especially those who prove unwilling to be tamed. This is why John Adams is remembered as President while his cousin and fellow revolutionary Sam is recognized as a beer.

During a 2002 interview in the Diocese of Alabama, I was questioned about my opinion of Chuck Murphy. His decision to form the AMiA was causing quite the controversy at that time. Having served in the Diocese of South Carolina for almost twenty years, part of that time in a neighboring parish, I had spoken positively about him.

I found Chuck to be a supportive colleague in whom I felt free to call on whenever his expertise or guidance was needed. No one had ever taught me as much about stewardship. Even after he left the Episcopal Church to form AMiA, he would always take my call. I had described him as godly, brilliant, and focused.

My candor did not sit well with this increasingly disquieted group who seemed unable to grasp that respect and admiration does not have to equate to one-hundred percent agreement. But as the author Walter Lord observed about Charles Lightoller, the acknowledged hero of the Titanic tragedy, 'the very brave can be very difficult.' And Chuck Murphy did not lack bravery. He could not be tamed which many found disturbing.

In an era of superficial empathy and faked perfection, it is easy to forget what makes a successful leader. According to Peter Stebinger in the church it can be found in 'faith, and focus.' And I would add vision as well. These were qualities of Chuck Murphy.

While many of us sent in yearly parochial reports proudly listing memberships in excess of a thousand regularly overlooked was the average Sunday attendance in the low hundreds. All Saints Pawley's Island under his leadership had more worshippers than members. He focused less on statistics and more on conversion which results in commitment.

I admired his willingness to openly share what had proven successful in his parish. Jan-Term at All Saints Pawley's Island presented top-rated speakers. The program pioneered dynamic renewal music as an evangelical tool which altered the nature of Anglican Worship. Where creative worship had previously been identified with progressives, it is now the hallmark of conservative and orthodox parishes.

While most of us (me included) hoped the Episcopal Church would magically come to its senses and change its increasingly heretical direction Chuck Murphy decided to do more than passively ring his hands. He was determined to affect the course of the church. It was a gutsy move, but I was not surprised. Chuck was used to swimming against the tide.

It was clear that 2002 evening in Alabama that I respected and admired his many accomplishments and liked him personally. I wished that he had been encouraged to remain with the Episcopal Church. As I shared with a friend after learning of his death I believed him to be a genius, but one so focused that he often came across as aloof and impatient. Perhaps this trait contributed to the rift that spelled the effective end of AMiA.

Many years ago, Chuck and I shared a long flight from England back to South Carolina where we had attended an international evangelism conference at Chichester Theological College. Chuck was concerned about a parish call I was considering and wanted to make sure I was aware of what I would be facing. In his words, I was leaving an extremely 'good gig' for one that was fraught with issues.

After a lengthy discussion, he shared a story from his father, a former nightclub entertainer who had become a priest. The first ovation following a good performance is heartfelt and sincere. A second is often a way of reinforcing the sincerity of the first. The mistake occurs when the recipient manipulates a third. It quickly becomes apparent that everyone is ready to leave and wishes he was too.

The trick is knowing to depart between the first and second.

Whether he stayed on the stage until the third will be left to the purview of the armchair experts. As for the continuing Anglican movement in America let it be said that Chuck Murphy is owed a debt of great gratitude.

While we slept, he acted.

Ladson F. Mills III is a retired priest with over thirty years pastoral experience. He lives with his wife on Johns Island, South Carolina. He is the founder of Setebos-Sixpence Freelance Writing, Ltd. He is a regular contributor to Virtueonline.

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