Andrew Dys

Miracles pave the way for Chester church

Fred Murphy Jr. and his wife, Flora, say God told them to build a new church, even though they didn't have the money to do it. "God told me, 'You build the people, I will build the church,'" Fred Murphy said. What followed, they say, is nothing short of a miracle.
Fred Murphy Jr. and his wife, Flora, say God told them to build a new church, even though they didn't have the money to do it. "God told me, 'You build the people, I will build the church,'" Fred Murphy said. What followed, they say, is nothing short of a miracle.

CHESTER -- All pastor Fred Murphy Jr. and his wife, Flora, knew is that God told them to build a new church.

They had no money to buy or build in the neighborhood of Mill Street but said faith had gotten them this far -- a rented storefront church called Outpouring Evangelistic Ministries. And a nonprofit foundation named for Murphy's nephew in downtown Chester that helps the drug addicted, the drunk, the young and pregnant, the lost.

So, they prayed.

"Why Mill Street?" I asked.

"That's where God directed me," Murphy said.

The Murphys prayed some more.

The phone rang one day, and a man named Ralph Gladden was on the other end. Gladden, in Chester all his 49 years, and Murphy, in Chester all his 63 years, had never met. Gladden asked if the call was about land he had for sale.

Murphy said he didn't call. Must have been a wrong number then, Gladden said.

Then Murphy said, "But I have been praying for land."

Gladden, who works at the Catawba Nuclear Station, soon met the Murphys and was struck by their mission to bring a new church to Mill Street.

So he donated two plots of land. Worth $17,000, tax value.

"I've been blessed; I thought they needed a blessing, too," said Gladden. "They called me by accident. But really, it's a miracle. Can't describe it any other way."

The Murphys have rented a building in downtown for their ministry and foundation since 1998. The building once was the unemployment office, then an adult day care center.

But in the beginning nine years ago, all Fred Murphy had was a dream. He worked at a tank manufacturer a decade ago when he was called to preach. He had no formal training. He was a blue-collar guy, a man who went to Eternal Rock church.

"Didn't have the money for the first month's rent," Murphy recalled about the building downtown.

The property manager, Richard Hall, rented them the property anyway.

"Fred Murphy is a sincere guy, and when he looks up in the sky and says, 'God, make it happen,' you just believe along with him," Hall said.

The building used to be owned by a man named Johnny McKeown.

McKeown, who lived in Chester for decades and owned convenience stores, heard from Hall about the Murphys' church and their hopes to move to Mill Street.

The next thing you know, McKeown had donated a piece of property on Mill Street. It cost $14,000 25 years ago when McKeown bought it. He didn't check the value. He just gave it to the Murphys.

"Chester has been good to me; you got to give back," McKeown said. "No, I didn't know them. But they want to build a church. Chester needs churches."

So now, the land that was donated has been cleared. The bulldozing was donated, too.

There still has to be a church built on the former McKeown property, and a family life center on the former Gladden property.

There is no bank loan. There is no money for building.

"I believe it will happen," said church member Linda Hicks.

"God told me you build the people, I will build the church," Fred Murphy said. "I've lived here all my life. I see the need. I know what can be done."

Chester in the past decade has seen the textile mills close down and the hopelessness for so many go up. Mill Street, like much of the city, is an older neighborhood that hasn't had anything close to a building boom, said Hall the Realtor, who makes his living knowing what property is worth to people.

"There's been this cloud in Chester of we can't do," Murphy said. "Who says so? Not me."

The Murphys' church has all black members. McKeown and Gladden don't go to the church. They aren't black. They didn't even know the Murphys before all of this.

So why did all these events happen, the land, the mixing of whites and blacks in property donation that all of them agreed probably wouldn't have happened a generation or two ago?

Fred Murphy and Flora Murphy the pastors, and Linda Hicks the parishioner, James McKeown and Ralph Gladden the property owners, and Richard Hall the Realtor all gave the same reason.

"God."

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