Dec. 3 2008 12:00 AM

Michael Murphy heading to D.C. to pastor historic black church

File Photo

Michael Murphy, a former state representative from Lansing, is moving to Washington in March to become the senior minister of one of the nation’s most historic black churches.

Murphy said today he will assume the duties in March of senior minister of Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ, which has 1,500 congregants. He has been senior minister of St. Stephen’s Community Church, also part of the UCC denomination, for 21 years. St. Stephen’s, 1007 Kimberly Drive on Lansing’s east side, has about 300 members.

A recent article in Time magazine suggested that President-elect Obama should consider Peoples. Obama attended Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago until he resigned in the spring over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy.

“Hopefully, they’d take a look at People’s,” Murphy said. “It would be exciting and challenging and something people at the church would welcome."

Murphy, 56, said he plans to keep his Tecumseh River Drive home in northwest Lansing and talked about retiring here — and possibly seeking elective office when he does. He mentioned running again for the Board of Trustees at Michigan State University as a possibility. He has sought the position twice but come up short.
“Some people want to go to Florida,” Murphy said about retirement, but he said that “Lansing’s become home. I have some wonderful relationships.”

Murphy, who was born in Chicago, moved to the area in 1975 to pursue a master’s degree in counseling, which he received a year later. He turned to Chicago to attend a seminary then came back to Lansing to work for the Michigan Legislative Service Bureau in the 1980s. He went on to work for the state Senate and then Gov. James Blanchard.

Murphy worked for two mayors of Lansing, Jim Crawford and David Hollister as director of the Department of Human Services, quitting in 1997 when he was elected an at-large member of City Council. In 2000 he was elected to the first of three terms to the state House representing Lansing’s 69th District.

The Nov. 14 Time magazine article in the form of a letter to the president-elect called “What church will President Obama attend?”, reporter Amy Sullivan wrote:

“If you want to stay within the UCC denomination, the best bet might be this historic black church, says Ron Stief, the former director of the UCC's Washington office and director of organizing strategy at Faith in Public Life. People's is located in Petworth — a mixed-race, less-affluent neighborhood in northwest D.C. — and Stief says it's very oriented to social justice: ‘They have a lot of international missions, sending members to Africa to do HIV work, for instance.’ Though there is another black UCC church in town, Stief warns that its pastor might be too ‘far left’ for the First Family — ‘I'm not sure Obama would go to that church after the experience with Jeremiah Wright.’ The only downside to People's: the well-respected senior minister is there on an interim basis, and there's no way of knowing who will eventually take charge of the pulpit.”

Murphy will be the ninth senior minister of Peoples, which was founded in 1891.

The Web site for the predominantly African-American church says, “we welcome everyone, without regard to gender, orientation, race or age.”