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Reasons to smile: Schuylkill County pastor credited for helping people get back on their feet

People who run groups aimed at helping others recover leave quite an impression. That includes one area pastor who's the focus of this Reasons to Smile segment.

ST CLAIR, Pa. — Across our area, so many church leaders and people who run organizations aimed at helping people recover from all sorts of stuff leave quite a lasting impression.

That includes one pastor from Open Arms Ministries in St. Clair, Schuylkill County who’s the focus of this Reasons to Smile segment with Newswatch 16’s Ryan Leckey.

Who is Pastor Vincent Murray?

His name is Pastor Vincent Murray or to those who know him, they call him Pastor Vinnie.

His colleagues and friends describe him as a humble guy who avoids the spotlight someone who just wants to help others. 

So much so, that his colleagues even had to trick him a little to get him to sit down for a chat with Newswatch 16.

"Well, you look surprised. People in our community nominated you and said you would be great fit our reasons to smile segment for all the good work you were doing in your town," said Ryan Leckey to Pastor Vinnie.

"Oh, my goodness. Wow. I'm shocked."

How Pastor Vinnie helps his community

Pastor Vincent Murray is a man of faith who helps lead several important organizations in Schuylkill County.

"Our Church is called the Auburn Church of God. And the Ministry is called the Open Arms Ministry," explained Pastor Vinnie. 

Open Arms Ministry is a transitional housing and resource center in St. Clair. The nonprofit organization provides faith-based solutions to help people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Those who work with Pastor Vinnie say every day is quite the adventure.

"He gave me the opportunity to be an office manager over here and get to work with these girls day in and day out and work with him day in and day out. It's never a dull moment with him around, and I love that because you never know what's going to come out of his mouth next," said Christina Linder who works with Pastor Vinnie. "He's just an amazing person who makes you smile when he walks in the room."

And it’s not just Pastor Vinnie’s coworkers who sing his praises but also the people whose lives he helped turn around for the better.

"Pastor has been a huge blessing and my life and my daughter Stella, who's right here. I met him when I was at Gaudenzia, which is like a six-month residential halfway house for a woman and children in Ashland, PA.  And I'm not from around here, so I didn't really know what I was getting myself into," said Cheyanne Peters of Pottsville. "It's been a journey. He's been there when I've been doing good, he's been there when I've been doing bad, but he's always supported me and he helped me strengthen my relationship with my higher power. And he just, like is a blessing all around. He would give the shirt off his back. He does everything that I would hope a pastor could do."

And speaking of actual shirts, there’s one Pastor Vinnie often references that he says really sums up his life’s mission.

"Years ago, some of our girls that graduated had gotten me a t-shirt that said this pastor is in it not for the income, but for the outcome," explained Pastor Vinnie.

An outcome that’s all about saving and improving the lives of so many and giving them and Pastor Vinnie plenty of reasons to smile.

Pastor Vincent Murray and his wife live in Pottsville. He has two sons that keep him busy in between his other commitments.

Another organization he works hand in hand with is a bank called Wood Forest Bank. It developed a second chance banking program to help women understand APRs, help them start to learn how to save, and start doing structures with their finances.

Click here to learn more about Open Arms Ministries.

The following was shared with Newswatch 16 about Pastor Vincent Murray from his close friends:

"Pastor Vincent Murray is the kindest and most selfless person that you will ever meet. He devotes the majority of his day to ensuring that others have what they need before he gets what he needs. Pastor rises Monday through Thursday by 4 am to pick up the ladies from the transition house at 5 am to drop one set off at the High Ridge Industrial Park then drives the others to Orwigsburg all before 6 am. Then he goes home to ensure that his son Anthony is up for school and has everything he needs before school. Then some mornings it's right back out the door for appointments and meetings. Then he has to make sure he has left the resource center by 4 pm to pick up the High Ridge set drops her off then gets to go home for about 45 minutes before picking her back up driving to Ashland to get the ladies from New destiny and then comes down to Orwigsburg grabs that crew from work and heads to the meeting of the night which ends by 9 and then drives the ladies from the transition house home which is about a half-hour drive then another half hour to Ashland then he comes back a half-hour refuels the van and then heads home for the night. Arriving home around 11 pm then still has to eat and wind down all before going to bed to start it all over again the next day."

"He always puts everyone's needs ahead of his own. He tries to ensure that every lady that rides with him feels special in her own way. He takes the time to get to know them by name and a bit about themselves depending on how much they are willing to share."

"Personally, for me, I don't know what I would do without him. He has helped me deal with my past and has helped me gain my self-esteem back. He has shown me that I am worth something and am good for more than a verbal punching bag. Pastor Vinnie has allowed me to find my voice and to express the abuse from my past. He was the first person I ever told about the abuse that I went through and he was the first person to just sit listen and encourage me to just write it down in raw form just as it was. Emotions and all."
- Christina Linder

"Pastor Vinnie has had a tremendous impact on so many people over the years. He has seen success stories and has seen many who have relapsed and are no longer with us. He has counseled many people whether in person, by phone call or by text message. Pastor has not quite mastered email yet but he's getting better. Pastor Vinnie has a good bit of his own health issues including a very messed up back, but he doesn't let anything get in his way. No matter what condition he's in, his "girls" and those who count on him always come first. He never takes any credit for what he does; he always gives God the glory."

"Those who have the honor of meeting Pastor Vinnie and getting to know him all say how does he manage and his answer is always by the Grace of God. Pastor Vinnie sacrifices a lot for the ministry and those he serves. Pastor does not receive a monetary paycheck for what he does and all he asks of the ladies that he takes to work is to cover the fuel costs. The ladies that he transports to meetings all he asks is that they try to get something out of the meeting and that they work on themselves."

"Thankfully there are a few loyal supporters of the transportation ministry that help cover the fuel costs because Open Arms Ministry survived solely on donations. This makes it tough sometimes because sometimes it means taking his personal funds to pay for things the ministry should be paying for."

"When someone needs to talk he is always willing to listen. He is a true gentleman and he never lets any lady do anything that he believes she shouldn't have to do and is always impressed when we tell him what we've done our whole lives and still won't allow us to help Pastor Vinnie is the true representation of what it means to talk the talk."

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