On September 29th and 30th, the Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center in Lanoka Harbor is having their annual Homecoming Festival entitled “Now is the Time for Universal Love: Love yourself, Love the Earth, Love your Neighbor”.  The weekend will feature inspirational talks, workshops, live music, local vendors and artists, food, a craft beer garden, a Kids Zone, and depending on the weather an “uplifting” surprise.

The event is divided into two parts. Friday night and Saturday morning are for registered guests only.  They will be staying over in Murray Grove’s guest houses or some may camp in the grove.  Murray Grove can accommodate 40 guests at any one time. On Friday night there will be cocktails, live music, dinner, and a speech by the Rev. Alison Miller.  The Rev. Miller is the senior minister at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship and a prominent leader for social justice in the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The festival, running from 1 PM to 6 PM on Saturday, is open and free to the public. It will be held on the great lawn.  In addition to the vendors and artists who will be displaying their wares a number of environmental and social justice organizations will have displays.  There will be live music, a poetry tent, spiritual and environmental workshops, food, a craft beer garden, and a “rubber duck” regatta in the center’s salt water pool. The keynote speaker at the festival is the motivational speaker, Julia Scotti. Scotti is a nationally headlining comedian, former teacher, author, speaker, and woman of transgender experience. She was a quarter-finalist and fan favorite on season 11 of America’s Got Talent on NBC in 2016.

Louise Ille, Murray Grove’s executive director, said “This year’s Homecoming will be our biggest ever.  It will be great to have so many old friends and many new ones come and enjoy the many offerings for the weekend.  We see this year’s event as a preview of our 250th year celebration in 2020.”

Murray Grove, as it is known in the area, is a local landmark since 1770 when the Rev. John Murray gave a sermon on September 30th, 1770 on the site of Thomas Potter’s farm.  The legend has it that Murray’s ship was stranded by opposing winds in Barnegat Bay and when he came ashore he met Potter.  Potter explained he built a chapel on his property waiting for a preacher to come and preach.  Murray said he couldn’t do it because he was leaving once the winds shifted but if they didn’t he would preach on Sunday.  The winds didn’t shift and Murray gave the first sermon on Universalism in America on the site.  Murray was considered to be the founder of Universalism in America.  The retreat center has been in continuous operation since its founding as a Universalist congregation in 1892. Murray Grove is currently home to the Unitarian Universalist Ocean County Congregation.