Receiving the Living Loehe Award
A few months ago, when Ross Murray ’00/M.B.A. ’09 received a letter to his office at GLAAD, he was astonished to discover he was about to be granted an award. He had been selected by Wartburg Theological Seminary to receive the Living Loehe Award, honoring his work on behalf of LGBTQ communities through GLAAD, the Naming Project, and several other LGBTQ programs. Overwhelmed by what he calls a “huge honor,” he traveled to Dubuque to receive the award at Wartburg’s commencement. The award, established in 1973, honors individuals who have given distinguished service to and through the church, and exemplify Christ’s call to be disciples in the context of their own daily lives and professional commitments.
Murray has worked with GLAAD for eight years directing a variety of programs, including religion, global, the U.S. South, and news. Currently senior director of education and training at the GLAAD Media Institute, he works with various aspects of the media world—advocates and activists (helping them to engage the media as a tool for LGBTQ advocacy); the media industry (advising on how to be fair, accurate, and inclusive in their stories); and corporations (helping them to be effective allies to the LGBTQ community). Each workday is different from the previous one, and Murray’s tasks range from reviewing a script, to screening a film, to developing curriculum, to providing one-on-one messaging to highly visible individuals, to leading courses and workshops—to name a few.
In addition to his responsibilities with GLAAD, Murray is the founding director of The Naming Project, a faith-based ministry serving youth of all sexual and gender identities. Similar to a Lutheran Bible camp, the Minnesota-based summer youth camp has attracted over 200 campers from across the country, and continues to provide a safe place for youth to comfortably discuss faith and how they understand themselves in relation to God and the rest of the world. The coffee house talent show is always a highlight, and it gives campers a unique opportunity to express care and support for fellow campers—fully aware of the importance of feeling included. Murray has been part of The Naming Project since it began 15 years ago, and has been gratified to see many young insecure campers grow into outspoken leaders and advocates.
Working and Studying at Augsburg
Prior to his work with GLAAD, Murray worked with the Youth and Family Institute, Augsburg University, and ReconcilingWorks. Throughout these experiences, faith identity and vocation have been central to his work, and he has often found himself returning to a mantra that he heard over and over from Dr. David Anderson in his Augsburg Youth & Family Ministry classes—that “ministry is about personal trusted relationships.” The repetition of that phrase must have worked because the mantra has become increasingly meaningful to Murray in his ministry and advocacy, and he sees it as key to building bridges of tolerance and acceptance.
Murray explains the mantra: “For people to care about you and want good things to happen for you, they need to know you personally and intimately—not a caricature or stereotype or label, but the actual you.” And that means listening to them, sharing your own story, and offering the gift of vulnerability—of being known. Though time-consuming, the bond that can result from this kind of ministry has greater potential to be deeper and more durable than the connections we make on social media or through our fast-information, media-driven connections. And though a “personal trusted relationship” demands much from each person, the bond is harder to break.
At Augsburg, Murray was a Youth & Family Ministry major, and he feels that his experiences there helped him to be the advocate he is today. He is especially grateful to the Religion Department, and in particular to Janelle Bussert, who encouraged him to create a welcome statement for Augsburg’s Campus Ministry program—a statement that resulted in adding the Campus Ministry program to the roster of Reconciling in Christ congregations and ministry settings, which let it be known that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are welcome to worship and participate. A few years later, Augsburg became the first Reconciling in Christ University.
After earning his B.A. from Augsburg, Murray earned an M.A. in Christian Education from Luther Seminary, as well as an M.B.A. from Augsburg; and in 2016 he was consecrated as a deacon in the ELCA. His synodically authorized Call was to do LGBTQ advocacy through GLAAD—a reality made possible only 10 years ago by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly when it voted to open the ministry to clergy in same-gender relationships and other professional workers living in committed relationships.
In 2017, Murray celebrated his 40th birthday with a party at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. He chose the Stonewall because of its significance as the site where the modern LGBTQ movement is seen to have begun 50 years ago, when members of the gay community rioted and staged a three-day protest to urge the NYPD to maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets. To Murray, the Stonewall protests and the ELCA policy shift are watershed events—and are reminders of what it means to be part of a “living history.” Much has been done, but much remains to be done.
In April 2016, the same month that Murray was consecrated as a deacon at Advent Lutheran Church in New York City, he married Richard Garnett in the same church. Richard is also an Auggie, having received his B.A. in 2007 and his M.B.A. in 2009.
A native of Littlefork, Minnesota, a small town near the Canadian border, Murray is amused that a boy whose home had no telephone until he was a junior in high school now finds himself living and working in a bustling metropolis like New York City, surrounded by a remarkable mix of people. And he loves it.
Murray recently returned from Thailand, a country he first visited 20 years ago with Augsburg Professor Emeritus Brad Holt, who was leading a J-term class entitled, “Buddhism and Christianity in Thailand: Spirituality and Dialog.” This time around, Murray has been working on sabbatical projects—most notably, a book about The Naming Project. Stay tuned for word of its completion.
—by Cheryl Crockett ‘89