Your Neighbor: Meet Bishop Sam Gray

Published 12:05 am Thursday, October 5, 2023

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By Mandy Haggerson

For the Clemmons Courier

When Bishop Sam Gray was called to serve as pastor at the New Philadelphia Moravian several years ago, returning home was greatly anticipated by friends, family and community members.

“I was here only five weeks initially when I was first born into a family of missionaries,” Gray said. “My parents were in the Winston-Salem area on a furlough before heading back to Nicaragua with myself and my older sister at that time. There were four of us children total in our immediate family.”

Gray recalls living overseas and serving others fondly.

“We stayed in Nicaragua for a lot of my childhood,” Gray said. “It was safer back then to do so, and I loved it because it felt like paradise. I grew up speaking two other languages besides English. We learned to play musical instruments from a woman in the village. Our mother had taught all of us children up until middle school instead of us attending formal schooling. She had only gone to Salem College for one year before marrying my father and hopping on a banana boat to Nicaragua as a missionary.

It wasn’t until junior high that Gray would return to the States for an extended period of time.

“In the 6th grade was the first time I came back to the States to live with a family friend that attended New Philadelphia Moravian Church,” Gray said. “I actually traveled by myself, too, because it was a different time back then. I even stayed in a hotel alone in Nicaragua before catching a flight to Miami, Florida. I took taxis for transportation, and the person who was supposed to pick me up in Miami had sent a Polaroid of what he looked like so we would know how to recognize each other.

“When I got to the airport, it was actually a different person because the person I had communicated with had run errands. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I took a chance, and it turned out fine. That wouldn’t happen today, but back then, it was just different.”

Gray also remembers experiencing culture shock when moving back to the States and attending Brunson.

“I definitely didn’t get a lot of the pop culture references,” Gray said.

After experiencing life back in the States with family friends, Gray’s parents and siblings joined him so that his father could be a pastor for a church in Mount Airy. Eventually, the Grays returned to Nicaragua for quite some time.

“However, when it came time to decide what to do for high school, my parents sent me to Stony Brook School in Long Island, New York,” Gray said. “That was quite an experience. There were definitely two extremes at the boarding school there. You were either really wealthy or the son of a preacher.”

After graduating, Gray attended Moravian College to study Elementary Education. Gray knew that he wanted to serve, but at that time, he wasn’t sure what that would look like.

“My parents had moved back to Honduras, and I decided to go over there and was a high school teacher,” Gray said. “I served as the director of the Bible Institute, Christian educator as well as organizing pastor of Israel Moravian Church in Tegucigalpa.”

Fortunately for Gray, he met his future wife, Lorena, while in Honduras,

“We were excited to start our mission work together,” Gray said. “We learned a valuable lesson pretty quickly when the first house we built and lived in burned to the ground. Here I was, thinking I was there to try and do great things for everyone, and we were humbled by the generosity and compassion of everyone in the village. We were also new parents at the time, and everything was gone except for the clothes I was wearing because the kids were in pull-ups. Everyone in the village brought us food and took up an offering for us so that we could rebuild what we had lost. Some of the items we lost we had lost were our wedding photos. However, we started receiving photos that we had given away to others. Friends and family started sending those back to us. It became meaningful that the only things that we were able to have were the things we had given away.”

Raising his children in a missionary family wasn’t a foreign idea to Gray. Sons: Sammy, 41; Tim, 39; and Christian, 31; expanded the Gray family.

“I wanted to set the same example as my parents. Growing up, I didn’t have a negative connotation for the church. I wanted my kids to have those same positive feelings. You always hear those stories about the preacher’s kids being neglected. My wife and I tried to be really intentional about that not happening. Also, being in Honduras with a mother who was from that area helped our sons, too,” notes Gray.

After spending time in Honduras, Gray went to the Moravian Theological Seminary in 1993 and earned a master of divinity degree in 1996. Gray was ordained and served as the assistant pastor of Emmanus Moravian Church and director of youth ministries with the Eastern District of the Moravian Church, Northern Province. Gray and his family moved to Miami, Florida, while he served as the pastor for the New Hope Moravian Church. Gray enjoyed serving in that role until joining the Board of World Mission staff. Because of Gray’s dedication and commitment, he was elected a bishop of their worldwide Unity by the 2006 Southern Province Synod.

In Gray’s position, he was able to travel frequently back to Honduras.

“With my wife having family and us still having a home there, it made it convenient and very enjoyable,” Gray said. “It was nice to combine our work there, too. It’s really beautiful with every fruit treat imaginable, and your back porch is 40 yards from the Caribbean.

“If it weren’t for the drug trafficking in that part of the world, it would be paradise. It’s our hope that it will settle down a bit.”

When Gray and Lorena decided to settle down themselves several years ago at New Philadelphia, they were excited to be surrounded by such a welcoming community.

Now, with four grandchildren, Rachel, Caleb, Gabby and Caylee, spanning from ages 12-24, Gray can add great-grandfather to his resumé because of Ruby.

“Being back at New Philadelphia has been so wonderful for our family,” Gray said. “Even though we’ve worked all over, what I’ve realized is that the fuller definition of mission doesn’t require you to be halfway across the world. The staff at New Philadelphia is amazing and so dedicated to what they do. Everyone supports each other so that more work can be done.

“I love that the church supports Southfork Elementary School in various ways. They have their 5th-grade graduation here in our fellowship hall. We do a love feast for the 4th graders and a continuous blessing box that we keep stocked with food.”

Gray appreciates the ideas and visions those in the church bring forth to support one another.

“A wonderful idea introduced by someone in the congregation included a fund to help people who are battling cancer,” Gray said. “Although insurance covers the medical costs, other expenses incurred outside of treatment can be a burden, and this fund helps defray those costs for things like electric or food bills.”

Gray particularly enjoys sharing these service opportunities with his family, too.

“My brother is the director of music for the church,” Gray said. “He had the tall task of following in the footsteps of the very talented, respected and appreciated late Johnnie Hauser. My sister also helps as an alternate organist and with the children’s choir. Our parents imparted the love for music to all of us.”

If you don’t see Gray utilizing his musical gifts at New Philadelphia, you can catch him at the local wineries playing the keyboard.

“I don’t do it too often, but it does happen every once in a while,” Gray said. “I’m also trying to get back into sports more, too. Our fellowship hall has a great place to come and play basketball. I think everyone will find there’s something for everybody here.”