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Services conducted for Rev. Cecil ‘Chip’ Murray


At First AME Church

A daylong memorial, including a viewing and celebration of Life wake, is taking place today in honor of the late Rev. Cecil L. “Chip'' Murray at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, where the spiritual leader served as pastor for 27 years.

Murray died of natural causes April 5 at his home in the View Park section of Los Angeles at the age of 94, his family said.

During his tenure at FAME, the city's oldest Black church, from 1977 to 2004, Murray helped grow its congregation from 250 to more than 18,000 members and attracted high-profile visitors including former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, along with multiple governors and Los Angeles mayors.

He was also noted for his calming presence during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

After his death was announced, Mayor Karen Bass called Murray “a giant'' who had “dedicated his life to service, community, and putting God first in all things. I had the absolute honor of working with him, worshiping with him, and seeking his counsel. My heart is with the First AME congregation and community today as we reflect on a legacy that changed this city forever.''

Following his retirement, Murray embarked on a second career as a Tansey Professor of Christian Ethics and chair of the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement at USC from 2005 to 2022, where he trained more than 1,000 faith leaders in the “Murray Method,'' which focused on tackling community needs by moving from what he called “description to prescription.''

In 1992, Murray gained national attention for helping to calm tensions during the riots sparked by the April 29, 1992, acquittal of four police officers videotaped beating motorist Rodney King, and playing a key role in rebuilding South Los Angeles after the uprising ended.

“We are not proud that we set those fires, but we'd like to make a distinction to America this morning about the difference between setting a fire and starting a fire,'' he told his congregation on May 3, 1992, the day the unrest ended. “We set some of those fires, but we didn't start any of those fires. Those fires were started when some men of influence decided that this nation can indeed exist half slave and half free. Those fires were started when some men poured gasoline on the Constitution of the United States of America.''

Murray tapped one of his parishioners, Mark Whitlock, who worked in commercial real estate, to secure investments and real estate developments to help restore communities left devastated after the rioting.

FAME hired 180 people as part of the effort and Murray oversaw the launch of FAME Renaissance, the church's economic development unit, which attracted $400 million in corporate investment for the community.

“We were able to create 4,000 jobs,'' Whitlock, now a pastor at Reid Temple AME Church in Maryland, told PBS in 2020. “We developed real estate extensively throughout South Central Los Angeles. He [Murray] is a remarkable leader. He's 90 years old, but his legacy continues through many of the real estate projects. He was the spiritual leader, the voice that moved the city and kept the city peaceful.''

Then-President George H.W. Bush named the church the “177th Point of Light'' as part of his Points of Light nonprofit initiative.

Murray was born on Sept. 26, 1929, in Lakeland, Fla.

He earned his undergraduate degree from Florida A&M University in 1951 and joined the United States Air Force after graduation where he served during the Korean War as a jet radar intercept officer in the Air Defense Command and as a navigator in the Air Transport Command.

Murray retired as a reserve major in 1958 and was decorated with a Soldier's Medal of Valor.

He earned his Ph.D. in religion from the School of Theology at Claremont College in 1964 and served as a pastor at churches in Pomona, Kansas City and Seattle before coming to FAME in Los Angeles where he showed up sporting an Afro and a dashiki and started to transform the church from a staid congregation of traditional hymns and little civic activism to one that included drums and guitars during services.

Murray's wife of 54 years, Bernardine, who gave him the nickname “Chip,'' died in 2013. His survivors include his son, Drew.