The Transylvania Times -

St. Philip's Episcopal Welcomes New Pastor - Brevard, NC


January 25, 2018

Courtesy photo

Rev. Thomas Murphy with his eldest son, Tav, meets Gary Hough and other St. Philip's parishioners after delivering his first sermon in Brevard. (Photo courtesy of Bonnie Jensen)

By Norah Davis

For The Transylvania Times

At an exuberant reception on Jan. 14 with a record turnout, the congregation of St. Philip's Episcopal welcomed the church's new permanent pastor, Rev. Thomas Murphy.

After conducting a nationwide, 12-month search, St. Philip's found its new clergy practically next door. Until receiving the call from St. Philip's, Murphy, 40, served as the assistant clergy at the Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville for the past seven years.

Energetic, lively, enthusiastic and bursting with ideas, Murphy said, "I did every single job there from children's ministry to pastoral care coordinator - except play the organ."

He would never tell you this, but the St. Philip's search committee learned that people came to All Souls from outside the area, even from South Carolina, just to hear him preach.

Growing up in Gastonia, Murphy was a "cradle Episcopalian" like both of his parents. His father was a physician with a strong interest in science and philosophy. Father and teenage son would have long discussions about the meaning of life during their frequent backpacking trips.

Because Murphy is a talker (in fact, "a fast talker when I get excited"), his father was convinced that he should go into business.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, initially Murphy did major in business. But he took a course in religious studies where he found out that religion allowed him to study everything, including science and philosophy. So he earned a B.A. in religious studies with a minor in Spanish.

Following graduation, he spent two years in Honduras with the Episcopal Church's Young Adult Service Corps helping street children.

"My faith was shaken down there," he recalled. "You pick up ghosts, images in your head that never go away and are hard to reconcile with the reality of a loving God."

Returning to the United States, he went to a graduation party for his twin sister - and met his future wife, Amanda. He describes her as gentle, intelligent, beautiful and humble, adding, "You all are going to like her a lot better than me."

After marrying Amanda, Murphy took a master's degree in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School.

Then it was Amanda's turn to go for a master's, so the couple moved to Tennessee where she attended Vanderbilt and earned her degree as a nurse midwife. Today, she conducts research and teaches medical students how to deliver babies, working out of the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC).

Both she and Murphy are bilingual, and their three children are fluent in Spanish: Tav, 9, Charlie, 7, and Eloise, 5. For anyone who is wondering, Tav is a nickname for Tavish, which is Thomas in Gaelic. Both Amanda's family and Murphy's have lots of Thomases.

The St. Philip's children's group is delighted to gain three new members all at once.

After Harvard and Vanderbilt, Murphy took a position with a law firm in Asheville doing legal aid and Spanish translation. A stint with the Tennessee Justice Project focusing on habeas corpus reform for inmates on death row taught him firsthand about the power of forgiveness from victims' families. Devastated after an execution, he felt a strong call toward the ordained ministry.

After attending Virginia Theological Seminary and being ordained, Murphy found himself hired at All Soul's - and now St. Philip's.

Denis Bolena, head of the church's governing body, said, "There are times when God puts you in the right place at the right time. Thomas is exactly what we need as a leader and pastor and friend for St. Philip's and our future. We are very excited about the next chapter in the life of our church."

As for Murphy, he finds St. Philip's so attractive because of the numerous ways that the church is involved in the life of Brevard.

"When the search committee drove me around town, every building we passed, they said that someone from St. Philip's volunteers there or is the owner."

Asked about his vision for St. Philip's, he said, "What I think about is what my community will be like in 20 years? How will the people of St. Philip's have changed life in Brevard? How will it be more just? More fair? How will it more resemble the kingdom of God?"

With a strong sense of humor and an obvious love of fun, Murphy believes that attending church should be holy, serious, and reverent - but also a great joy.

In fact, he sees church as the only hope for our troubled country.

"We are facing an identity crisis," he said. "We are constantly told that we're too fat, or too skinny, or our teeth are not white enough. We are not told what life should be.

"In church people can talk about what really matters in their lives. Of what God's dream is for humanity. Church is where people with a diversity of ideas can be unified by getting to know each other. Church is a place of healing for a culture that is so in need of healing."

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