"We believe that church belongs in the middle of the marketplace, and ought to be the most creative place on the planet,” says Lead Pastor John Murray, who along with his wife Kathy is a co-founder of Catalyst Vineyard Church. Murray holds an undergraduate degree from Cornell University (1978) and a graduate degree from Ithaca College (1983). He led Ithaca College Wrestling to three NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships during a 15-year coaching career from 1980 to 1995. He is currently bi-vocational also serving as the CEO and co-owner of Advantage Sport & Fitness, one of the most successful commercial fitness equipment distributors in North America that he started in his basement in 1987.
Kathy Murray, also an Ithaca College graduate, has served as a teacher in the Ithaca School District since 1997. Kathy defines the church’s name, catalyst, as “an instrument or agent of change that removes barriers and ignites transformation in a natural way”. She states, “Catalyst desires to do just that for people who have been disillusioned by previous church experiences and are looking for a casual relaxed atmosphere to pursue faith and community”.
John and Kathy started their church planting conversation in the summer of 2010 following their graduation from the Vineyard Leadership Institute. They both felt a strong sense of God’s call on their lives to plant a church in Downtown Ithaca while attending the Vineyard Cause Conference in Worcester, Massachusetts in the fall of 2010. This call was later affirmed through a series of Vineyard Church Planting Boot Camps and Roundtables held from 2011 thru 2014.
The Murrays started attending the Syracuse Vineyard in April of 2011 which was founded in 1991 by John and Gwen Elmer. Following a conversation with John and Gwen in the fall of 2014, they began to explore Downtown Ithaca for a church location to rent. Kathy sensed that they were “pregnant” with the new church in December resulting in John identifying the perfect site in early 2015. He discovered a boutique theatre on West State Street in Downtown Ithaca owned by the Kitchen Theatre Company. Built from an existing structure as a LEED-certified building in 2010, the theatre includes a 99-seat stage space, art gallery, hospitality bar, and a striking entranceway called “the beacon”. John and Kathy had also connected with John “Carter” Ruttle and his wife Amy (married 15 years), the founders of New Vine Media, in the fall of 2014. New Vine is a community of musical artists and creatives based in Ithaca whose desire is to develop Christ inspired music, media, and communications. John and Amy also had a sense that God was calling them to partner with the Murray’s and assist them in planting a church for young professionals in Downtown Ithaca.
The Murrays started the church with meetings in their living room in March, began holding five monthly services at The Kitchen Theatre in May, and later commenced weekly services the last Sunday of August. The church has grown from a handful of adults and children to approximately 80 adults and 35 children ages 2 -13 in its brief seven month history.
Catalyst Vineyard Church was officially recognized as a member of the Vineyard USA Community of Churches and as a not-for-profit religious corporation in New York State in April of 2015. The Vineyard USA is a network of 1,500 churches worldwide, committed to seeing each generation reached by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Birthed in the late 1970s in Southern California and led by the late John Wimber, the Vineyard Movement has become one of the most influential church movements of the 20th-21st centuries.