Located near Barnegat Bay and close to the New Jersey coast, 90 minutes’ drive south of New York City and about the same distance east of Philadelphia, Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center, a private, non-profit organization, occupies twenty lovely partially-wooded acres. Adjoining it is 200 acres of the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Preserve, with nature trails leading through woods to the wetlands on Barnegat Bay, encompassing several ecosystems.
1 About Us. MURRAY GROVE RETREAT AND RENEWAL CENTER
the mid-1700s, the land that is now Murray Grove, in Good Luck, New
Jersey, was being farmed by Thomas Potter, member of a locally prominent
family. Though unlettered, Potter was a successful and deeply religious
man. Probably a Quaker Baptist, he had caught wind of a radical new
theological current called universalism: the idea, against strict
Calvinist predestination, that all human beings will ultimately attain
salvation. Based on his understanding of scripture as read to him, he
worked out his own strong beliefs. He sought out those with knowledge,
and with similar views, including visiting ministers, inviting them to
his home to discuss current issues.
1760 - his wife Mary having grown tired of hosting such discussions in
her house - Potter built a meeting-house for the express purpose of
housing a preacher of the universalist gospel. But, for ten years, he
never found one. However, he persevered in his faith that one would be
provided him, in the face of his neighbors' skepticism.
the same time, in England and Ireland, a young man with an intense
interest in religion and a natural talent for public speaking was
reaching a life crisis. Having first converted from conventional
Anglicanism to Methodism, John Murray had then been convinced by
universalist doctrines he read of and heard in London. Losing his
position in the Methodist church as a result - and soon thereafter
losing both his infant son and his beloved wife to illness - he was
barely rescued from debtor's prison. Downcast and distressed, he was
determined to give up religion altogether and make a new life for
himself in America.
booked passage on the brig Hand in Hand, bound for New York. Diverted
first to Philadelphia, they were on their way back up the Jersey coast
when they swept over a sandbar in a fog just off Cranberry Inlet (which
no longer exists) into Barnegat Bay. The captain off-loaded some of the
cargo onto a smaller local vessel, which he asked Murray to oversee. The
brig, now lighter and the wind having shifted, was able to return to
the open ocean; but the wind changed again and the smaller boat was
unable to follow. The Hand in Hand then proceeded on to New York,
leaving Murray, the boat, the sailors and the cargo behind, trapped in
the bay. They came ashore and, when Murray went in search of provisions,
he was directed to the Potter home.
Potter, having seen the vessel stranded, met him with: I have longed
to see you. I have been expecting you a long time! When Potter learned
of Murray's background, he was convinced that this was the preacher of
universalism for whom he had been waiting, sent to him by providence.
Murray protested that preaching was now in his past, that he wanted
nothing more to do with it. Besides, he had to leave as soon as the wind
allowed his boat out of the bay. Potter responded, The wind will never
change, sir, until you have delivered to us, in that meeting-house, a
message from God.
they agreed that, if the boat were still stuck in the bay the following
Sunday, Murray would preach in Potter's meetinghouse. If it were freed
before then, he would depart with it. The ship was still there on
Sunday. Murray did in fact preach a sermon on universalism to Potter and
his family and neighbors, on September 30, 1770. As soon as he was
finished, a sailor ran up to inform him that the wind had turned, the
ship was free, and they could now leave for New York.
departed, but soon returned to Good Luck and his friend Potter. Freshly
inspired, he stayed in this area for several years, traveling around to
the nearby towns and villages, preaching universalism to enthusiastic
listeners. He eventually left again, making his way to New England,
earning ever greater popularity. He found a permanent home in
Gloucester, creating and ministering to the Universalist church there -
the first in this country - and later in Boston. He was instrumental in
the organization of Universalism as a denomination in 1793.
Potter's death, probably during the Revolutionary War, his will left
the meetinghouse and the acre of land on which it sat to Murray. Murray
was unable to claim it before his own death in 1815. It passed into the
hands of a local Methodist congregation. The original building was taken
down, and the current chapel was built on the site, in 1841.
2 Story of Thomas Potter and John Murray. MURRAY GROVE RETREAT AND RENEWAL CENTER