Name: Brian Murray
Country of origin: UK (Glasgow)
Current role: Pastor at Beacon Heath Church (Exeter, UK)
SERVing in Nazareth: 1 month
Meet one of our most recent SERVE volunteers, Brian Murray.
Born and raised in Glasgow, Brian now lives in Exeter, where he works as the pastor of Beacon Heath Church. His wife, Carolyn, works as a GP (General Practitioner) and tutors medical students at the University. Brian and Carolyn have three children aged 22, 20 and 17.
Beacon Heath Church is located in the suburbs of Exeter and has a congregation of around 100 people. “I think it’s probably the right size for me. I know everyone’s name and enough of what’s going on in people’s lives to build fellowship”, admits Brian.
Originally, I studied History at Edinburgh University. Job-hunting took me down to London to do accountancy, taking me into film and television for about 15 years. Then I hit a career crossroads – and studied at a local Bible College before working full-time for a church in Glasgow city centre. I worked there for a couple of years which was an excellent experience, and found a heart to serve in a smaller church. I looked online, and this church in Exeter came up.
I was brought up in a Christian family. I’ve always gone to church, and as a teenager, I fully trusted Jesus. Church, and trying to grow as a Christian have always been central to my life, but I never saw myself working for a church – so it was a bit of a surprise to end up doing just that! Now it’s been 14 years since I started working as a pastor in Exeter.
About 20 years ago, when we were living in Glasgow, we had a visit from a couple who have been involved with the Nazareth Trust, and know my in-laws. They came to lunch with us and told us about the Nazareth Village. They also happen to go to the church right beside the Nazareth Village.
Fast forward 20 years. Earlier this year, my church said I could take a sabbatical, so I had three months off. I thought to myself: I want to do something special with my sabbatical rather than just visit other churches to get some ideas. I thought maybe I could go to Israel for a month. That’s when I remembered the Nazareth Trust and looked on the website, and a picture of a friend from Glasgow was on the screen as a trustee. I’ve known him for over 35 years, from the youth group at church, and we stayed in contact over the years. Seeing his face on the Nazareth Trust’s website was a real shock! It just felt as if God confirmed that as a possibility. I phoned him, asked him more about the opportunity, and then applied for SERVE.
I shadowed the Pastoral Care Team in the hospital – Frank and Christine – two days a week. I went around the hospital with them, and they outlined their aims and how they engaged with patients and staff. It was very helpful because hospitals in the UK are purely secular; there’s no Christian or religious overview. I enjoyed shadowing them and seeing what it’s like having a Christian ethos, and how you engage with the whole of society through that.
I was also a character at the Nazareth Village three days a week: I mostly did the shepherd. That was very different! My time therefore had a nice mix; I felt that I was fortunate that my time landed that way.
It was my first time in Israel. I assumed from television and the Eurovision Song Contest that it was almost like a European country. I’ve had Jewish friends pretty much all my life, but they never said anything about the makeup of the land. I was therefore surprised that the north is quite Arab. I wasn’t expecting Arabic at all. Christine and Frank really helped me: they were either translating or taking me to see English-speaking patients and letting me talk to them. I visited patients who were on dialysis. While going around the hospital talking to patients and staff, I would occasionally bump into other SERVE volunteers who were doing a medical placement. Other times, we visited a consultant: we had coffee and chatted about the pressures of their job which was very insightful.
The Village was really good fun. Everyone I met was lovely. Even those who couldn’t speak English made an effort to communicate somehow. I’ve never looked after sheep or goats before, so being responsible for them was a bit tricky. They seemed to like to escape! Getting them back was quite hard, but I enjoyed being there. Between tour groups, there would be some downtime, so just imagining that area and what it would be like for Jesus to walk there for around 26 years of his life was special.
I was completely shocked by the situation in the country – the political and economic side of things. It took me about two months to work through when I got back home. I came across a couple from Exeter when I signed up for the SERVE Nazareth programme who’ve had 50 years of contact with the Trust. They took me to a conference a couple of weeks after returning from Nazareth about the Biblical perspective on Israel / Palestine with input from the Bethlehem Bible College. That conference helped me to process a lot of questions in a positive way.
The other volunteers who were in the Doctor’s House accommodation at the time, had done tours of Israel before – so when I went sightseeing, I went on my own. It was a raw experience because I wasn’t part of a group. I found myself in some situations that were a bit edgy, and I could see the fragility of the situation in the country. My whole experience helped me to understand what it means to be a Christian there and helped me to reflect upon my own faith and what it means to be a Christian in the UK.
I would say that was probably the highlight of my whole time. When I stayed at the house, it was relatively quiet: there were three retired Americans and Monika, a younger lady from Paraguay who was there for a year – she’s a legend. She had been there for ten months when I got there. They are all lovely Christians with so much wisdom! I asked them so many questions about church, and being a Christian from their experience in their country. I was on a sabbatical break – so it was an opportunity to stop – but also to get answers and see how God was shaping my time there. Having the four of them in the house was definitely God’s provision.
Several young Americans arrived and stayed upstairs in my last week, and the dynamic of the house changed and took on a different life – which is a great part of the whole experience of doing SERVE. During the day, I was out in the hospital or the Village, but in the evenings, I would go back into the cocoon of the people in the house, which was really special. And because of that, you keep in contact with each other, which is a great part of the whole thing too.
I think I’m a frustrated artist, but I enjoy it as a creative outlet. Nazareth and Israel certainly gave me new views to paint. If I’d been in Nazareth for longer there may have been opportunity to paint a mural, or do something creative – next time?
Apart from finding out more about the political situation, I was surprised at how quickly people talked about their points of view. What also challenged me was seeing the SERVE coordinator – Majdoleen – working. Most of the time we never saw her because she was busy, but she was always engaging with the WhatsApp group for the Doctor’s House – where SERVE volunteers live – to make sure everyone was doing well. She was the glue that kept everything running smoothly; she was almost invisible – going around sorting things out in a really humble and servant-hearted way. I think that probably struck me the most, and taught me the most coming back to my role.
I saw that too with Frank and Christine: they’re also lovely servant-hearted people, like everyone in the Village. People would do anything for me and took the time to help me.
Every week, I went to the church beside the Nazareth Village. There are only 10 to 15 people in the congregation. I found that quite challenging because I consider my church here in Exeter a small church in UK terms – and there’s about 100 people. From what I heard – the average church in Israel is around 10 to 20 people, so it was a real challenge for me to see them keep going.
It was nice to get back to the UK. This country is so calm and peaceful! Being in Israel almost felt like being in a Hollywood film-set: it was quite intense but very good. I’m glad I went there; it has had a big impact. I’m still unravelling some of the things spinning around in my head from my time in Nazareth, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have been there.