INDEPENDENCE, MO. The leader of the Community of Christ, a congregation with 250,000 members in 50 countries, has resigned and will leave the church's priesthood, citing health, family and undisclosed personal reasons.
W. Grant McMurray, 57, told about 300 church staffers throughout the world about his decision to resign as church president by videoconference Wednesday. The church, based in suburban Kansas City, was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints until April 2001.
McMurray was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, he said in his letter of resignation. He described the disease as being in "an early stage and very treatable," but added that he needed to devote more attention to his physical health.
But before mentioning the disease, McMurray cited a struggle over several years "with personal and family issues that have impacted my ability to function unreservedly in my office and calling."
"I have done my very best to fulfill my responsibilities in accordance with the needs of the church and believe that God has gracefully blessed me in this effort," McMurray wrote. "However, along the way I have made some inappropriate choices, and the circumstances of my life are now such that I cannot continue to effectively lead the church."
The resignation letter was addressed to the other two members of the church's First Presidency, Peter A. Judd and Kenneth N. Robinson. They praised him for "visionary leadership and dedicated service at a critical time in the life of the church."
Although church tradition provides a departing president the right to designate a successor, McMurray declined. Judd and Robinson will lead the church until a successor is chosen. The next Community of Christ World Conference is not scheduled until 2006, but church leaders said a conference might be called sooner because of the resignation.
In a statement posted on the church's Web site, Judd and Robinson said further details about the circumstances of McMurray's resignation would not be released.
"Some people may try to search out details, to speculate, and to participate in spreading rumors," they said. "Speculation and rumor are destructive and to be discouraged."
McMurray, a native of Canada who moved to Independence as a teenager, spent 33 years as a full-time minister of the church. He became a member of the First Presidency four years before being ordained as president of the church in April 1996.
During his tenure the church opened its first seminary, hired about 200 new ministers and expanded operations to parts of the world it had not served before. For the first time, women gained a place on the governing counsel, with three of them elected to serve.