Pauli Murray celebrated as saint at annual service
The Rev. Pauli Murray, the Durham-raised woman who went on to become the first African-American female Episcopal priest and was made a saint by The Episcopal Church in 2012, was celebrated July 1 at an annual service held at St. Titus’ Episcopal Church in Durham.
Murray spent her life speaking out against injustice. She was also a lawyer, women’s rights and civil rights activist and author. Her memoir of growing up in Durham’s West End is called “Proud Shoes.” She died in 1985. Two years ago, her denomination named her and two other North Carolinians – Manteo and Virginia Dare – to the book “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints.”
At the service Tuesday night, the Rev. Stuart Hoke told the congregation that Murray fought long and fought well, and it is only there with Murray that the “liberating God takes front and center.” The causes of freedom Murray worked for, Hoke preached, included her own. She was denied admission to UNC Law School because she was black, and denied admission to Harvard Law because she was a woman, he said. Hoke also noted that The Episcopal Church denied women the priesthood until well into the 1970s.
Hoke said Murray’s lifelong witness and perseverance to the causes inspires others to go out and live it. He thinks she was about prophetic witness. To exercise your prophetic voice, you don’t have to go out and buy vestments, he said.
“There are always opportunities out there to witness God’s truth,” he said.
Hoke said a prophet asks, “What the hell is going on?” and works to bring down the walls that create those hells. “I don’t think anyone said, ‘Oh, she was such a nice lady.’” He said that giving a sermon calling for action won’t result in an after-service comment of ‘Nice sermon, today,’ at the door.
“When you take up a cross and follow Jesus, conflict of some kind is inevitable,” Hoke said. He talked about the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, speaking at a recent Moral Mondays protest at the legislative building in Raleigh. Curry advocated for education for all God’s children, Hoke said, and backed it up with Scripture.
“Prophecy will be making a comeback,” Hoke said, though the cost of discipleship is no easy road.
Several other clergy participated in the service, and the Pauli Murray Ensemble choir sang. The choir is composed of singers from multiple churches in Durham and Raleigh, including St. Mark A.M.E. Zion, Holy Family Episcopal, Holy Cross Catholic, New Creation United Methodist, White Rock Baptist, First Congregational, St. Ambrose Episcopal, St. Joseph’s Episcopal, St. Titus’ Episcopal and Martin Street Baptist. Ramon Holloway of St. Titus’ directed, and Paula Harrell of White Rock was the organist. The St. Ambrose Jazz Mass Quartet also performed.
The service’s Collect of the Day was sung by Hoke and later said in unison by the congregation:
“Liberating God, we thank you most heartily for the steadfast courage of your servant Pauli Murray, who fought long and well: Unshackle us from bonds of prejudice and fear so that we show forth your reconciling love and true freedom, which you revealed through your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
And the people said, “Amen.”
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