January 29 – Alan Walker

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Alan Walker, faithful servant

Born in Sydney in 1911 the eldest of two boys, he was proud of the Walker heritage. John Joseph Walker was sent to Australia in the early 1800s as a convict, as was a young woman Ann Gill who became his partner. Their son John was an unruly young man but was converted through a Methodist preacher in 1838. He joined the local Methodists and began to preach. Alan’s father was an evangelist and he responded to his father’s appeal to people to give their lives to Christ at a service at the Boolaroo Methodist Church. He became the youngest student ever to be admitted to theological training in 1930. Due to the financial situation he had to pay his way, which he did through a profitable fruit and vegetable run.

He did well at theological college and asked to do university studies at Sydney University which he did while serving brief terms at Hornsby, Croydon and with the Young People’s Department. Some key lay people at Croydon recognised his potential and offered to send him to England for a year to gain experience in ministry with leading ministers there. He was about to get married but they agreed he could take his new wife if he raised the cost of her fare. He was given a one-way fare and living expenses for three months. After that he was on his own financially. In 1938 he was enabled to spend time on the staff of each of the leading mission churches throughout the country. He was impacted especially by the ‘big three’ of English Methodism, namely Sangster, Soper and Weatherhead. During this time he went to Europe, witnessed a Hitler rally in Germany, and attended a Faith and Order congress in Switzerland where he met William Temple.

On returning to Australia he was appointed to Cessnock, a coal-mining town. He learned to understand the people and community he served, he made use of the mass media of radio and newspapers, as a pacifist he had to cope with controversy, and he developed links with the Trade Union movement. During this time he gained a master’s degree in sociology published as Coal Town: A Sociological Survey of Cessnock. Next he was appointed to Waverley.

There he continued to develop his media ministry, built a community centre with a range of programs and the congregation grew. He was chosen to represent the Methodist Church at the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948 and the Australian government at the United Nations in New York in 1949.

He was asked to head up the Methodist Church’s “Mission to the Nation” which was launched in April 1953 in the Melbourne Town Hall. He travelled the nation speaking to huge crowds and attracting a great deal of media attention. A National Christian Youth Convention was held in January 1955 as part of the Mission to the Nation. He was then invited to the US to serve the Board of Evangelism of the Methodist Church for a year in 1956. This was followed by becoming visiting professor of evangelism at the Boston School of Theology for a semester and then returning to Australia by ship via Europe and the Suez Canal.

In 1958 he began as superintendent minister of the Central Methodist Mission in Sydney. He emphasised worship, social witness and evangelism as he sought to minister not just to the congregations but to the city. He instigated programs such as Teenage Cabaret, College for Christians, Singles Society and School for Seniors. The television program “I Challenge the Minister” gained high ratings. Vision Valley conference centre was established. The most notable development was Lifeline, the telephone counselling service that became a worldwide movement. In 1970 he became President of the NSW Methodist Conference, which included conducting “Newness NSW” missions and the Valley Festival. He was constantly in the media speaking on social issues, most notably opposing the war in Vietnam and Apartheid in South Africa. He had many overseas trips speaking to different groups: to the US in particular but also memorable ones to Southern Africa.

After 21 years at the Mission he became director of World Evangelism for the World Methodist Council from 1978 to 1987. He and his wife Win literally travelled the world proclaiming his holistic gospel that held together the personal and social dimensions of the gospel. This is best expressed in his most important book, The Whole Gospel for the Whole World (published by Abingdon in 1957). He wrote over 20 books and numerous articles especially the Easter and Christmas editorials for the Sydney Morning Herald. At an age when most people are retired he established the Pacific College (now Alan Walker College) of Evangelism at North Parramatta and served as principal until 1995 when he finally retired. He is remembered as a powerful speaker and leader who proclaimed Christ, spoke out on social issues, and established Lifeline. He was an evangelist, a prophetic voice and a person with a pastoral heart who became one of Australia’s living treasures. His voice and life are heard today in the need to keep evangelism and social justice, personal and social holiness together, along with worship and pastoral care.

Contributed by Chris Walker