Home Pastors ‘Be fully present’: Beloved pastor GR’s sons remember his late father

‘Be fully present’: Beloved pastor GR’s sons remember his late father


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Sunday before the Renaissance Church of God in Christ hosted the funeral of Patrick Lyoya, Bishop Dennis McMurray stood before the congregation and clarified his mission.

“He said, ‘The world is coming to see what is happening, but our responsibility is to serve the Lyoya family. That’s what we’re here to do,” recalls Parris McMurray, quoting his father’s words. “’So if you’re an usher, make sure you’re serving the Lyoya family, not cameras and lights. If you sing, be sure to sing for the Lyoya family.'”

Bishop Dennis McMurray’s counsel that day reflected his own core values.

The senior pastor, who died Wednesday of cancerwas about people, not promotion.

“Yes, the lights had to be on, Reverend Al Sharpton had to come in, absolutely. But the focus was on the Lyoya family,” Parris McMurray explained.

Indeed, from the start of the service, Dennis McMurray asked the crowd to show their support.

“Clapping expresses your love for someone,” Dennis McMurray said. “’Can we give love to our mother and our father? We love you,” he said, his eyes focusing significantly on Patrick Lyoya’s parents.

“Can you all shout with me, ‘Mom, Dad, we love you!'” he said.


Parris McMurray said his father made it a point to forge a personal connection with everyone he met, regardless of circumstance or position in life.

“When he introduced himself to people (at the store) just around the corner, he would never say, ‘Hello, my name is Pastor or Bishop McMurray,’ he would say, ‘Hey, what’s up, man? My name is Dennis. What’s your name ?’ “, explained Parris McMurray. “My father had a tremendous amount of caring, empathy and concern for others.”

Parris and his brother, Auston McMurray, sat down with News 8 a day after their father’s death to talk about his life and legacy.

Parris and Auston McMurray, sons of Bishop Dennis McMurray.

Dennis McMurray founded the Renaissance Church of God in Christ in 1992.

Dennis McMurray was a ‘dynamic preacher and gospel teacher,’ his biography on the church website says.

The Muskegon Heights native served as an administrative assistant to the Bishop of the Western Michigan Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ, conducted seminars and was a motivational speaker.

In October, Dennis McMurray was honored for his social activism and leadership for social change in the region with the GIANT award among giants. He has served on the Michigan Community Corrections Board, the National Board of Bethany Christian Services, Kent County Community Mental Health, and the Spectrum Health Executive Patient & Advisory Board. He has previously been honored with the GIANT Award for Religious Life and the Who’s Who Award in Black Grand Rapids by the Black Chamber of Commerce in Detroit.

He and his wife, First Lady E. Jean McMurray, recently celebrated their 36th birthday.

They met while students at Grand Valley State University and were blessed with three children, two boys: Parris and Auston, and a girl, ChaVon.

Bishop Dennis McMurray with his wife, E. Jean McMurray, and their children, Parris, Auston and ChaVon. (Courtesy of Parris McMurray)

The Renaissance Church of God in Christ has just celebrated its 30th anniversary.

“He lived his life out loud, but not from a self-gain perspective. It was from a perspective of self-sacrifice. He gave himself to literally every person he met,” Parris McMurray said.

It was about a month after Lyoya’s funeral, Dennis McMurray’s sons said they began to notice a deficit in their father’s physical strength.

Dennis McMurray, 63, was soon diagnosed with a rare cancer.

He died on Wednesday, five months after the cancer was discovered.

His sons told News 8 that funeral arrangements would be announced soon.

As committed as Dennis McMurray was to serving people inside and outside the church, his sons say he was equally dedicated to his role as husband, father and grandfather.


“He was a family man,” said his son, Auston McMurray. “It was God, family, community. He was completely present inside our house, and completely present outside our house. He had this duality of care that was unparalleled.

His sons say their father was able to give 110% in all areas of his life thanks to his level of organization and attention to detail.

“So organized. So well thought out and strategic in everything he did,” said Parris McMurray.

Bishop Dennis McMurray with his grandchildren. (Courtesy of Parris McMurray)

Dennis McMurray’s commitment to the family was exemplified on the day of Lyoya’s funeral, which coincided with a long-planned special event at his grandson’s school.

“My eldest son celebrated Grandparents Day at school that morning and (Bishop McMurray) said to everyone, ‘Give me 45 minutes.’ So he and his assistant went to my son’s school, spent 30 minutes, drank some punch, had a cookie and said “OK”. have a nice day. Paw Paw loves you,” Parris McMurray said.

In addition to his focus on family, church, and community, Dennis McMurray was a leader among urban pastors in Grand Rapids, particularly over the past three years as the community grappled with the COVID-19 quarantine, a 2020 summer riot and the April police murder of Patrick Lyoya.

“He was the driving force in keeping urban clergy connected. Late night zooms. Early morning zooms,” said Reverend Jerry Bishop of Life Quest, an urban church that describes itself as goal-oriented and performance-based ministry.


Bishop called Dennis McMurray “consummate encouragement”.

After learning of her death, Bishop said he spent 90 minutes reviewing the couple’s text exchanges.

“Over 90% of the text messages he sent me were just encouraging me. … Encouragement not to reduce my passion. Encouragement to stay connected. That was really what a lot of my pastoral colleagues needed during the three years, arguably among the darkest hours for our community. The uncertainty of COVID, the crisis and calamities during the riots, potential unrest in the days and weeks after the death of Patrick Lyoya,” said he declared.

Bishop has worked closely with him over the past few years, getting to know his mentor and friend on a deeper level.

“(Dennis McMurray) said something to me that still resonates,” Bishop recalled. “He said, ‘I’m going to get to know what makes you tick the way you do.'”

Bishop said McMurray’s death should remind people that “tomorrow is not promised.”

“I really believe in this transition season from Dennis; it should awaken many of us servants of the community to love (and) live better,” he said.


Parris and Auston McMurray told News 8 that their father encourages people to fully accept their emotions.

“What we learned from him was to experience emotions and not be afraid, not get into this idea that men don’t cry,” Parris McMurray explained. “Cry. Feel the emotion. Cry tears of joy, tears of sadness. Either way, make sure you feel your emotions fully.

The brothers passed on their mother’s response to a neighbor who, upon learning of the pastor’s death, asked how he could help.

“My mom just said, ‘Pay it forward. Pay it forward, wherever you go, wherever you walk, every place you occupy, pay it forward: that same care and that same concern. …If there’s someone you need to tell you love, tell them right away. If there is someone you need to apologize to, apologize to them right away, be fully present and leave no stone unturned,” said Parris McMurray.

— Anna Skog of News 8 contributed to this report.

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