The History of Murray Grove

Murray Grove’s history is a story of hope, pilgrimage, and perfect timing. It is a sacred place to many, a historic site to others, and a place where people gather to get in touch with their roots, themselves, and one another. Murray Grove is located on the site of John Murray’s first Universalist sermon in America; a pilgrimage site in its early years. Today, Murray Grove is a Unitarian Universalist retreat and conference center in the Lanoka Harbor section of Lacey Township, New Jersey United States, traditionally considered the site where Universalism in America began.

The Meeting Heard ‘Round The World

In 1770, Thomas Potter, an unlettered but inspired Universalist landowner living in what was then called Good Luck, New Jersey, encountered John Murray after Murray’s vessel was grounded in nearby Barnegat Bay. Learning that Murray was both a Universalist and a preacher, Potter prevailed on him to preach the gospel of universal love in the meetinghouse Potter had built for that express purpose ten years earlier. Despite serious misgivings and initial resistance, Murray gave his first Unitarian Universalist sermon on the North American continent on September 30, 1770. Taking the experience as a sign that God wanted him to dedicate his life to preaching Universalism, he went on to minister to the first congregation in the United States, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and later to be centrally involved in the founding of the church.

Universalist pilgrims began trekking to Good Luck in the 1830s. Unable to purchase the meetinghouse, they created what they called Murray Grove and, over time, erected the Potter Memorial Chapel for worship services and Murray Grove House for accommodations. It has been a national center of Universalism for over a century and, since the merger of the Universalists with the Unitarians in 1960 as Unitarian Universalism, remains a vital and active Unitarian Universalist gathering and pilgrimage site.

Murray Grove offers historical tours as well as space for groups to hold their own retreats and conferences. Regular programs are presented, especially including the Homecoming celebration on the last Saturday of each September.

Murray Grove’s Humble Beginning

Murray Grove’s story is a story of a man named John Murray whose faith sustained him through ridicule and time, a story of a man so lost to the world that he sailed thousands of miles to lose himself in the wilderness, a story of what happens when passion is reignited, a story of pilgrimages and hope, and of sadness and rebirth. Murray Grove is a sacred place to many, a historic site to others and a place where people gather to get in touch with their roots, themselves and one another.

Thomas Potter and Murray Grove

Universalists visiting the site of Potter and Murray’s meeting and Murray’s sermon found neither the land nor the chapel any longer in Universalist hands. In the 1830s, groups led by Rev. Abel C. “Thomas made a series of pilgrimages to Good Luck, and in 1833 raised a stone over Potter’s grave. By now well organized, the Universalists decided to try and purchase the site back from the Methodists. Unsuccessful, they then bought what they called the Memorial Acre, adjacent to the original site. This was the kernel around which Murray Grove was formed.”

Thomas Potter

“It could be argued that nowhere in Universalist history are we given such a story of faith as that of Thomas Potter, an illiterate farmer who built a chapel in 1760 in the New Jersey woods for a Universalist preacher. Although we say we don’t believe in miracles, the meeting of Rev. John Murray, fleeing England to lose himself in the new world, and Potter, sure that God had sent this preacher of Universalism to give a sermon in his chapel, is about as close to a “miracle” as any in the Bible. One might use the word “synchronicity” to describe this meeting.”

John Murray

“John Murray, for whom Murray Grove was named, was considered by early Universalists to be the father of Universalism in America. He was born in Alton, Hampshire (fifteen miles northeast of Winchester Hampshire England), on December 10, 1741. His father was an Anglican and his mother a Presbyterian, both strict Calvinists, and his home life was attended by religious severity.”

250th Anniversary

In 2020, we celebrated the 250th anniversary of John Murray’s epic sermon in Thomas Potter’s chapel in Good Luck, New Jersey September 30, 1770;  the beginning of the thread of Universalist History in “the new world.” And the place where it happened is our oldest historic site.

Preserve Our Historic Universalist Landmark

If you believe in Murray Grove’s cause and the history universalist landmark it is, please consider donating or getting involved with the Unitarian Universalists Ocean County Congregation