Banking on faith

Gavin Simms
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Religion Former money manager finds new purpose in ministry

Millions of people spend hours a day for years upon years, standing behind counters, serving up something to earn a living.

Elaine Murley did it for 23 years, as a bank employee and dedicated member of the global economy.

And she took pride in her work behind the counter, but she can still look back today and question some of the choices she made and the system she worked for.

Elaine Murley at the altar at St. Mary's in Clarenville. Photo by Gavin Simms/The Packet

Clarenville - Millions of people spend hours a day for years upon years, standing behind counters, serving up something to earn a living.

Elaine Murley did it for 23 years, as a bank employee and dedicated member of the global economy.

And she took pride in her work behind the counter, but she can still look back today and question some of the choices she made and the system she worked for.

Today she stands in a different place, behind altars in St. Mary's and Smith Sound parishes, where she serves up the word of God.

What brought her here is something she describes as a journey.

In 1977, she was 17 when she started work as a teller at the Royal Bank in St. John's. After transferring to a branch in Toronto, she met her future husband David, who was attending university.

In 1981, they packed up and drove to Newfoundland to start a family. Elaine was eight months' pregnant.

Something happened on the road that left Elaine feeling there was a greater reason for their trip than even they knew. In fact, their exact destination was unknown; all they knew for sure was that her husband was to start teaching in Arnold's Cove school in the fall.

"We were probably about 30 miles outside of Canso Causeway. We had driven all night, and I had fallen asleep at the wheel," she recalled.

"We ended up in a big ditch. Neither one of us was hurt. The car was fine. David and I looked up at the highway and there was a bus, filled with guys in softball uniforms. They came and lifted up the car and put it back on the road. We turned around and the bus was gone, the young men were gone. We never even got to say thank you."

The Murleys crossed the Gulf on the ferry Aug. 4 and then drove across the island to Arnold's Cove to check out apartments. She wasn't happy with any of them, especially knowing that they'd have a baby in a month. They went to Sunnyside, but there was nothing available there that caught their eye.

As they were driving along the highway, they caught a glimpse of Hillview.

"It was such a pretty town to look at from above. So, we drove down the road and there was a 'For Sale' sign in the window of a house. David and I looked at each other and said, 'Is it possible that we can buy this?'

"We went next door and made a phone call to inquire about the house. That evening, the owners of the house came by. We bought it that night."

If the Murleys had not made the detour into Hillview, things could have played out very differently.

"Our lives always have these pathways," she said. "Everybody has a path. How you arrive to your path can be very different, based on how you decide to do things. It's the little things."

Elaine believes people don't begin to become who they truly are until they start experiencing things.

Who she is today has a lot to do with another experience.

"I turned 40 and everything went upside-down. I was bedridden for six months. I could hardly breathe. They were just trying to help me breathe."

Severe asthma, fibromyalgia, inconsistent womb cells, a tumour in her liver. She just lay there.

"I wrote my funeral plans. I told my clergy where they were," she said.

"I lifted my life up to God and said, 'If I die today, I have had an awesome life.'"

Turn around

Elaine's thoughts eventually drifted from the severity of her situation. She began to think less of herself and more of others. Things started to turn around.

"I began to realize how precious little things are. Even so far as a breath of air. It came to a point where nothing was taken for granted."

Her near-death experience triggered a sort of rebirth, she says. She didn't see things the same anymore.

The bank she would have laid down her life for now held zero significance. There was no going back to it, she said - a new path had been revealed.

"I started having a yearning to know more. I was reading my Bible and looking at how transparent it actually was. This book, written 2,000 years ago, was written for today.

"I became thirsty for knowledge. I enrolled in the diploma in ministry and theology program and the associate program at Queen's college."

She hadn't thought far beyond the act of acquiring as much knowledge as she could get her head around. She studied day and night, sometimes writing essays into the wee hours. It was beginning to define her.

God had always held a strong presence in the Murleys' lives and they raised their three children as Christians, but that didn't make Elaine's transition into the church as easy as changing clothes.

"Everyone was saying to me, 'Elaine, you've got to go and do more than this. You've got to be a minister.' I thought 'No I won't be able to do that.' I struggled with that so much. I didn't know how my family was going to feel about it."

After she finally told her husband that's what she wanted, he said, "Well, I thought that was what you were doing anyways."

She laughs at the memory.

With her family's support, Elaine was able to become who she feels she was meant to be. Her spiritual life was now one with her home life.

"When you are not honest with who you are, people can see right through that," she said.

"I wanted everyone to know who I was, to know why I was doing these things and to respect my decision. As long as my family was happy that I was doing what I was doing and it wasn't going to hurt our relationship, then I was fine."

She now alternates between St. Mary's Parish in Clarenville and neighbouring Smith Sound Parish and says her life is richly blessed by both ministries.

Elaine is also active with the women's correctional centre in Clarenville. She said these women are in the midst of their own journey and for some it is a twisting, lonely road.

"I don't think that anyone in this world should feel so alone," she said.

"If I have any opportunity to speak to someone, even for something very small, then that's enough. Whatever seeds I've planted, that's a part of that person's transformation."

Elaine said when she worked at the bank, she grew tired of watching people struggle in the web of the material world; watching as they lost sight of what mattered.

"It wasn't about the person, it was about the money. ... Unfortunately, in this society, money is No. 1."

She said her new career path feels more natural to her.

"This living is a lot easier, because you are who you are. You don't have to put on a face."

Now that she's found her purpose, she said, she gives thanks for the gift of life and knows to never take what little we have for granted.

"Love is the be-all and the end-all," she said.

Organizations: Cove school, Queen's

Geographic location: Clarenville, St. John's, Toronto Hillview Newfoundland Canso Causeway Sunnyside Smith Sound Parish

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Recent comments

  • Starr
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    This is a wonderful story. If someone wants to think a church is a business let them go ahead, but this lady is obviously called of God to a wonderful ministry and has been down the road of suffering which no doubt has given her an increased capacity for others and ability to love. As she herself said, she started to think less of herself through her experiences.
    I was really touched and blessed by this story, as I'm sure many others were. I am not Anglican but denomination doesn't matter when we are one in the Spirit of God.
    God Bless you and your family, Elaine, you have much to offer.

  • Mavis
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    But isn't a church a business too?

  • Starr
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    This is a wonderful story. If someone wants to think a church is a business let them go ahead, but this lady is obviously called of God to a wonderful ministry and has been down the road of suffering which no doubt has given her an increased capacity for others and ability to love. As she herself said, she started to think less of herself through her experiences.
    I was really touched and blessed by this story, as I'm sure many others were. I am not Anglican but denomination doesn't matter when we are one in the Spirit of God.
    God Bless you and your family, Elaine, you have much to offer.

  • Mavis
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    But isn't a church a business too?