Obituaries: Rev Dr Derek Boyd Murray, Baptist minister, historian and pioneer in hospice chaplaincy

Rev Dr Derek Boyd Murray, MA, BD. Born: 5 April, 1936 in Edinburgh. Died: 25 May, 2022 in Inverurie, aged 86

Derek Murray was a Scottish Baptist minister for 64 years, which included three pastoral charges in Scotland, 25 years as a Hospice Chaplain at St Columba’s Edinburgh, (15 of them full time), 46 years continuous teaching in the Scottish Baptist College, (five of them full time), and for over 40 years a leading voice in the Scottish Baptist History Project, the research impetus behind Baptist denominational history in Scotland.

These are impressive statistics, but within them and woven through them, was a life of quiet devotion and vocational obedience to the call of God. As husband and father, pastor and teacher, chaplain and scholar, friend and confidant, Derek Murray fulfilled a vocation that was both diverse and focused.

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Derek Boyd Murray was born in 1936. He was educated at George Watson’s School where he made friendships that lasted late into life. He studied ancient history and archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, graduating MA, then theology at the Baptist Theological College of Scotland, graduating with an external BD from the University of London in 1958. Later in 1977 Derek earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree from St Andrews, for a thesis on John Glas and the small dissenting churches known as Glasites.

Derek Murray was an understanding and thoughtful preacher and a warm-hearted and faithful pastorDerek Murray was an understanding and thoughtful preacher and a warm-hearted and faithful pastor
Derek Murray was an understanding and thoughtful preacher and a warm-hearted and faithful pastor
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On completion of his degree studies he married Giles Watson Guthrie in 1958. The couple have two daughters, Ruth and Ann. Derek and Giles were both teachers by vocation and talent, committed to pastoral ministry as a team, and finding in their family and faith a life both full and fulfilling. When Giles died in 1995, the foundation partnership in Derek’s life came to an end, bringing inevitable change. Later, in 2000, Derek married Lorna Rattray, a Methodist minister and chaplain in Mental Health. In 2005, following retirement, Derek and Lorna moved to Inverurie, where they remained widely engaged in local church and community affairs.

From 1958-1986, Derek was a Baptist minister in pastoral charge in Paisley, Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh, apart from five years of full-time teaching at the Baptist College from 1961-66. He became part-time Chaplain at St Columba’s Hospice in 1977, and was appointed full-time Chaplain in 1986. Derek Murray was made for this work. His gentle warmth, instinctive care for ordinary folk trying to make their lives work, and his thoughtful faith and courteous ways with others, enabled him to come alongside people and accompany them along some of the hardest miles of their journey. He was a pioneer and exemplar of chaplaincy in a hospice environment. He lectured on dying and end of life spiritual care at New College, Edinburgh, his book Faith in Hospices remains in print as a wise and authoritative guide, and even after retirement he remained active through the Association of Hospice Chaplains, serving for a time as its Education Secretary, and was Scottish representative on the International Council of Pastoral Care and Counselling.

Derek’s faith was formed initially in Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh, where his first preaching efforts were in the open air around Edinburgh. Over time his theology took on a broader form of evangelicalism that was instinctively ecumenical, a faith both progressive and responsive to the contemporary mind and a rapidly changing world. As a theologian he was intellectually generous, combining humility with sharp intelligence. He was also and always one of the most enjoyable conversationalists, drawing on a mind like a fully stocked supermarket of stories, facts and ideas.

Life experience, thoughtful theology and personal devotion made Derek Murray an understanding and thoughtful preacher and a warm-hearted and faithful pastor. In the age of tablets and technological innovation, his spiral reporter’s notebook was sufficient as aide memoire, and for those of us who heard him, more than sufficient as source of spiritual understanding and encouragement. Derek was my teacher in the mid-1970s. His style was conversational, education a shared experience of learning and teaching around a table, helping us to discover the right questions to ask – and never to settle for poor answers. He taught us to grow in grace, as well as knowledge.

In church history Derek was a scholar with enthusiasm for the story, and an amazing memory with careful accuracy for detail. His knowledge of Scottish Baptist history in particular, and of Baptist history generally, was all but encyclopaedic, his fund of anecdotal oral tradition seemingly inexhaustible. His written contributions include The Baptist Union: The First 100 Years, and a recently revised History of the Scottish Baptist College, along with various scholarly articles in several learned journals. But his historical curiosity, knowledge and interests spread across the centuries and traditions; from ancient Church, to medieval papacy, Enlightenment Europe to Victorian nonconformity, and on into the long 20th century of Western decline, receding institutional faith, and technological change.

One personal story stands as testimony to this man who “looked humanely forth on human life”. We were in the car talking about how he and I met, and about our lives since. He mentioned Giles, Ruth, Ann and Lorna and how through these women his life had “fallen on pleasant places”. He said he liked Tyndale’s translation of Genesis 39.2, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a lucky fellow.” Then he said quietly, “I’m a lucky fellow.”

Derek Murray was many things, but all of them integrated in a life of faith. Son, husband, father, minister, teacher, chaplain, scholar, writer and friend. He embodied the title of a book we discussed more than once – “the love of learning and the desire for God.” The hymn Derek chose for his funeral service is a fitting description of the man who was our companion on the road, and signpost to God:

Brother, Sister, let me serve you,

let me be as Christ to you;

Pray that I may have the gift to

let you be my servant too.

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Dr Murray is survived by his wife Lorna, daughters Ruth and Ann, and granddaughters Alice and Amy.


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