Father Brian Murdoch, priest in charge at Grace Episcopal Church, was something else. I got to know him about a year ago, and once you met him, you’d never forget him. It wasn’t just his contagious enthusiasm or the little black and white buttons he wore on his lapel that read “Got Grace?” It was his spirit that got to me.
A former Catholic who graduated from Boston College, Father Brian became an Episcopalian in a big way, but he never stopped embracing his Catholic-based Franciscan spirituality. I was deep in sabbatical from my own roots in the Catholic church when we met, so he and I had a lot to talk about. I’ve never met another human being I could open up to so completely about the inner workings of my own spiritual life. With Father Brian, it was like talking about the weather. My deepest hopes and feelings came tumbling out over a cup of coffee in the kitchen of his eclectic rectory on Woodlawn Avenue. I liked him so much that I applied for a job as administrative assistant, or some such title, at his church. I didn’t get the job, but our friendship was bigger than that, and we kept in touch.
He decorated the big yellow rectory with furnishings he picked up from Chicken Alley and other thrift stores. The house was comfortable and large, and he appreciated it. My husband reupholstered a little antique piano stool he had, using remnants of course, because Father Brian wasn’t about to spend a lot of money on it. And, to tell the truth, my husband liked him immediately and said he’d do it for nothing. Father Brian wasn’t having that; he’d have to give us something. We decided on fifty bucks, and Father Brian came and picked up the finished piece at our house. He loved it.
We talked about spiritual stuff and church-column stuff, but Father Brian always asked me about my family and about how I was “really doing.”
I spoke to him last a couple of weeks ago on Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis, and that in itself is a bit of consolation for me. I called to see if he had any news to add to my “Have Faith” column, and he told me he wanted to sit down with me; we made plans to have coffee in a couple of weeks. He had to run, he said, it was time to bless the animals in honor of the feast day of the saint he loved so much.
We said our goodbyes and went about our day.
Looking back, I can’t remember the number of times I’ve told people they ought to try Grace Church, because they’d really like the priest there. It was almost like I was trying to persuade myself to go back to church.
One time after we had one of our first spiritual talks, he invited me to come to a service there. Well, I thought, any pastor who’s doing his job is going to invite you to worship at his church. Like I said earlier, Father Brian was unique. He invited me to a funeral service. That was the first and last time I heard him preach, and he was good. He was very good. I had already known that Father Brian had taken the time to be with the man and his family leading up to the patriarch’s death, and his homily reflected that.
I never attended another service he led at Grace Church, but tonight as I think about Father Brian and all the talks we won’t have, I wish I had gone again.
The Rev. Brian Murdoch died unexpectedly at his Vineyard Haven home on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016. He was 62.
Connie Berry writes the “Have Faith” column in The Times.