Rev Dr John Garrett

GARRETT, Rev. Dr John Allen.
July 15, 1920 -April 29, 2011 (aged 90)

Rev. Dr. John Garrett was a Uniting Church minister, historian, teacher, and author. John served both the Congregational Union of Australia and the Uniting Church in Australia. He made a tremendous contribution to ecumenism representing the Congregational Union at the 1948 World Council of Churches (WCC) Assembly in Amsterdam.

John was ordained in 1946, and served as the first full time General Secretary of the Australian Council of Churches (1948* – 1954).
*note: NCCA and other references cite 1948 and others 1950.

John then served the WCC as Director of Communications based in Geneva (1954-60). Upon returning to Australia he was appointed Principal of Camden Theological College, Sydney.

John took a prominent role in the Joint Commission on Church Union, which led to the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977.

John was also active as an ABC broadcaster.

In 1968 John moved to Fiji to lecture in church history and worship at the ecumenical, post-graduate Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji, where he lived from 1968 until his return to Australia in 1992.

His research took him all over the Pacific. He was the author of several books and numerous articles. He demonstrated the vital role of Pacific Islanders in the spread of Christianity throughout the Pacific in a work in three volumes beginning with To Live Among the Stars, a book which was described as a “standard for a generation”. his writings offer great insight into the tensions and mission of the church.

John was a visiting fellow at the ANU and at Victoria University, New Zealand. In 1983 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of the South Pacific.

In 1992 he returned to Sydney as associate to the minister of Mosman Uniting Church. He maintained strong contacts with Fiji and his circle of friends, continuing to mentor former students, supervise theses in Pacific history and help translate his books into French.

In old age, Garrett kept up his interests in music and poetry. In 2003 he received an honorary doctorate from the Sydney College of Divinity.

In 2007 John founded The Garrett Riggleman Trust to perpetuate the memory of his father Allen G. Garrett and father-in-law Leonard Riggleman.  The Trust invests the financial legacy of the Garrett and Riggleman families for the benefit of the common good.

John lived a rich life of ministry, scholarship, teaching, and dedication to Christian unity, in the worldwide mission of the Church.

John died peacefully, after a final illness surrounded by family and loved ones, in his ninety-first year – the completion of a rich earthly life of ministry, scholarship, teaching and dedication to Christian unity, in the worldwide mission of the Church.
Widower of Dorothy and Roberta. Loving and greatly-loved father, father-in-law, grandfather, great-grandfather and uncle. Missed and remembered by a host of friends throughout the world and especially in Fiji and the Pacific Islands.

John was much loved and will be greatly missed by his family and friends. We give thanks to God for his life and ministry. May he rest in God’s grace and peace.


Article in Sydney Morning Herald, June 2011

In 1948 a young minister was returning to Sydney from an assembly in Amsterdam that established the World Council of Churches. In Fremantle, he went for lunch with his Australian Student Christian Movement (ASCM) friends, Ron (later Sir Ronald) Wilson and his wife, Leila. Losing track of the time, when he got back to the dock, the ship had cast its moorings. The crew threw him a rope and he clambered up the side.

The captain told him a man of his profession ”ought to know better”. John Garrett might well have had to concede that point but his star went on to shine very brightly as a Christian minister, pioneer of the ecumenical movement, journalist, historian, teacher and scholar.

Global outlook … John Garrett was a leading figure in the ecumenical movement.
Global outlook … John Garrett was a leading figure in the ecumenical movement.
After holding a senior position with the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, he lived in Fiji for 25 years and taught many of the current leaders of Pacific island churches. He wrote the only comprehensive history of Christianity in Oceania, To Live Among the Stars.

John Allen Garrett was born in Sydney on July 15, 1920, the son of Allen Garrett and Pearl (nee Dwight). Allen founded a firm of refiners and assayers of precious metals and had been a lay preacher in the Methodist Church in England before migrating and joining the Congregational Church.

John was educated at Caterham School in Surrey, England, and, growing up in Vaucluse, at Sydney Boys High School and The Scots College. He began an arts degree at the University of Sydney in 1939 as an evening student, working at his father’s factory during the day, and then decided to train for the Congregational ministry.

Until World War II, he had shared his father’s pacifism. But the war caused him and many ASCM contemporaries to reshape their theology.

Majoring in English, Garrett won two university essay competitions. Awarded the bachelor of divinity degree, he was appointed a travelling secretary for the ASCM. In 1946, he was ordained and became minister at Summer Hill.

In 1945 he married a teacher and school counsellor, Dorothy Scott-Orr, and in 1948 he was awarded an MA for his thesis on the poetry of T.S. Eliot, who read the thesis and commented on it.

Garrett was appointed as the first full-time general secretary of the Australian Council of Churches in 1950. That year, he became the Australian churches’ first envoy to Indonesia following independence and in 1952 he jointly led the Australian delegation to the World Conference of Christian Youth at Kottayam, South India (future prime minister Bob Hawke was a delegate).