25th February 2020

Views from the Manse – Rev J.D. Williams

By Rev Dr John Sampson

J. D. came from Tasmania after being baptised in the Hobart Tabernacle in 1933. As a young man he served in pastorates at Deloraine and Yolla before being called to the ministry and entering the Victorian Baptist Theological College. He graduated in 1942.

After college he served in South Hobart 1943/4, and as an Interim in Hobart in 1945 before going to Devonport 1946. In 1949 he took up a position at North Adelaide and he stayed here until 1958.

He then accepted the position of secretary of the Australian Baptist Missionary Society where he served until 1983, leading the mission through the difficult transition from a colonial world to a post-colonial world. It was he who developed the policy that saw the mission aim to develop an indigenous church and get out as soon as possible, rather than continue with the colonial model where you build a local church dependent on outside leadership.

In 1984 he joined the team at North Balwyn and remained here until 1992 after which he completed his life’s work with a number of Interim ministries until the year 2000.

In all this time he remained single and I wondered how much this influenced the opportunities open to him?

We all recognise that Jesus never married but seem very hesitant to appoint people who follow his example and deliberately remain single.

Surely we do not believe that a single person is incapable of maintaining a house or cooking a meal. If we really valued them we could support them by providing home help or a housekeeper. This was suggested in a letter to the South Australian Baptist paper Truth & Progress in 1893 in a letter that bemoaned the state of affairs in which the churches are deprived of the services of a minister’s wife. To quote ‘How is it possible for her to go among the people, visit the sick and attend the various meetings of the Church when her whole time has to be given to domestic duties because she cannot afford to keep a help’.

But real life is far more complicated than this simple argument.

For example Jesus was not a lone itinerant preacher. He lived in a community made up of the disciples. Devoted men & women, who shared his life. Also when he sent his disciples out they went in pairs. So to follow biblical precedent perhaps we should look again at communal living. The Community of the Transfiguration comes to mind, but others with fewer resources may well find a share house fits the bill.

And then I discovered that JD did not live alone. He lived with his sister Leslie who maintained the house and cared for him for the whole of his time in Melbourne.

When I sent a draft of this article to the Rev. Tony Cupit he pointed out that there are many other examples of single ministers who have done great work in the BUV. To quote him;

Clarrie Edwards had some long and successful ministries, for example Boronia and Nth Balwyn,

 Peter Arnold ministered in churches before marrying Yvonne.  

And there have been a number of unmarried female ministers; e.g.,

Jill Manton after Peter’s death,
Marion Welford,

Marita Munro (though not in a congregation),
Sue McDonald. etc, etc’.

We could add to this the list of Deaconesses from the 1950’s as they were all expected to remain single and celibate while they served in the churches or the mission field.

Note why did Baptists only expect the deaconesses to be single and celibate while serving the church while the Roman Catholics expect both men and women to be single and celibate?   


If you would like more info on JD we have a good introduction to his work in his article ‘Twenty Five Years in the Australian Baptist Missionary Society’[1]. If you would like a hard copy please contact me. As treasurer of the Victorian Baptist Historical Society I can provide you with one for $20 plus postage or I could send you a digital copy for free via my email.

JD was a character and there was far more to him than you will ever find in one article but at least we have a good starting point. However there are so many others whose lives need to be celebrated.  

So please choose a subject, arrange some interviews & do a bit of research. Then pull out your laptop and start typing.

If you submit your work as an essay to the Victorian Baptist Historical Society’s Essay competition you could even earn yourself with a nice little bundle of cash for Christmas!

[1] The Victorian Baptist Historical Society magazine ‘Our Yesterdays’, vol 5 p 27.

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