EFAC Australia

With the passing of Alan Kerr the church has lost the last of a remarkable group of Melbourne evangelical lay leaders known as “Nash’s men”, after perhaps the city’s pre-eminent evangelical leader of the last century, C. H. Nash. Under his influence through the City Men’s Bible Class, Nash’s men exercised an incredibly energetic ministry combining their business skills and evangelical convictions to lead and grow ministries ranging from Campaigners for Christ and CMS, to Scripture Union and EFAC.

Alan himself was a key leader in each of the above, as well as in the United Mission to Nepal, the Asia Pacific Christian Mission (today, Pioneers), the Zadok Institute and Ridley College. He was a part of the leadership for both Billy Graham’s Melbourne crusades (1959 and 1969) and both National Anglican Evangelical Congresses (1971 and 1981). He helped create CMS’ federal structure and SU’s regional structure ANZEA. He was also a member of the EFAC International Executive with John Stott.

In 1970 alone he was on the Federal Council of CMS, Chairman of Bookhouse Australia (a wholesale agency ministry), Chairman of EFAC Australia, on the vestry of St James, Ivanhoe, a trustee of Anglican Evangelical Trust of Victoria; and a member of the General Synod, Melbourne Synod, Melbourne Diocesan Council and Finance Committee, on the Ridley College executive, St Andrew’s Hall (CMS) committee, the Christian Businessman’s Luncheon Group, Open House council and various SU committees.

Alan may be accused of trying to make up for a childhood hampered by illness! He was born a in 1918 with a chronically weak chest which meant frequent bronchitis, pleurisy and pneumonia. As a result his formal education effectively ended in Grade 2, but he was a voracious reader and his father gave this habit great support by running books to and from the Athenaeum library.

The Kerrs moved from Essendon, home of Alan’s beloved Bombers, to Blackburn and then to Heidelberg in search of more amenable environs. His maternal grandfather Alfred Benjamin Pearce, was a man of strong Christian faith and a Methodist lay preacher, giving the Kerr family a strong Methodist connection. However, the walk to the local Heidelberg Methodist church was long and hilly, and so the family tried out the more accessible St Andrew’s Rosanna. This exposed them to the powerful preaching ministry of another remarkable evangelical layman, Horace J. Hannah – one of the founders of Ridley College and confidant of Sydney Archbishops Mowll and Loane. The family transferred their allegiance to St Andrew’s ‘chiefly because of the teaching and example of Mr Hannah’, whom Alan called, ‘the greatest single influence in my life’. Another great early influence was Amy Giddings, a well-known Sunday School teacher and gifted Bible teacher of the time who had a great impact on many. Her classes were held in the Hannah’s home in Heidelberg, which Alan attended for several years immediately following his conversion.

In 1936, Alan was invited to a house party – a weekend away attending the Upwey Christian Convention – by his friend Wellesley Hannah, the son of Horace and subsequently, with his sister Shirley and their respective spouses, a missionary with CMS in Tanganyika. Alan was attracted to the people in the group and the teaching and singing, and was indeed ‘seeking to respond but at that point the way forward was not clear’. It was at a subsequent house party that year in Healesville in May that he made a ‘commitment to Jesus Christ’.

Earlier in 1932 fourteen year-old Alan had begun making wooden toothbrush holders. He discovered he could sell them and began a business in wood products. By the time he was seventeen Alan had expanded and improved his product range, had orders from Myer Emporium and G. J. Coles (another supporter of Ridley College), and was travelling to Sydney to solicit more business. The Kerby Group would eventually grow to become one of Australia’s largest furniture manufacturing businesses, with major factories in all six Australian states. Alan was able to combine frequent business travel with visits to missions partners and meetings with SU and EFAC International. It was a good thing Alan loved travel.

Alan had a tremendous appetite for hard work and detailed time and task management. He also had a great capacity to bring to bear an appropriate Word from the Scriptures in every conference, meeting or committee. He was at once completely devotional and completely business minded. He is remembered by colleagues for this and for his optimism, determination and pragmatism. Alan exemplified the earnest devotional life of evangelicals in his generation: disciplined daily quiet times of Bible reading and prayer using SU notes, and the reading and giving of spiritually useful books were features of his life. He was completely convinced of the need of repentance and faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and just as completely assured of God’s guidance in life’s decisions and promise of eternal salvation. His Christian witness in the business world was focussed through the Christian Business and Professional Men’s Luncheon Group, and by the generous conditions offered to Kerby staff.

Alan’s involvement with Ridley College began in 1957 when he became a Council member. He was thus involved in the selection of three principals: Morris, Betteridge and Cole. He was later appointed to the Executive of the College Council and chaired it from 1991 after the unexpected death of his predecessor, John Upton. Alan brought his business acumen to the Council, but his views on cost control and financial management clashed with a prevailing old-school academic culture. He will be chiefly remembered at Ridley for his great efforts in the area of fund raising. He worked on three major appeals for Ridley, leading the million-dollar 1981 appeal. His work, government funding and the generosity of Ridley’s friends made the swathe of building improvements possible: including Wade Lodge, the historic octagonal chapel, the purchase of 192-196 The Avenue, the Leon Morris library and Stanway lecture theatres, the dining hall and Betteridge lecture theatre.

Alan is remembered as a gracious Christian man, always warm and friendly, hospitable, making time for people and, although a sometimes tough business operator, ready to humbly admit his faults and mistakes – as he does in his autobiography. He was largely a self-made man, although he would say that his life was a ‘guided journey’, guided by his ‘gracious God’s good hand’.

Alan was married to Georgina ‘Ina’ Bell in 1941. Tragically, Ina died of post-operative pneumonia the day before Alan’s 24th birthday in 1942. Alan married Ada Moffat in November 1943, and they enjoyed 65 years of devotion to each other in marriage. In 1998 he released his autobiography Guided Journey – Some Experiences of a Lifetime (Brolga Press, Gundaroo, NSW, 1998). In 2002 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia ‘for service to the Australian and international communities through the programmes of the Scripture Union’.

Alan is survived by Ada and their sons Howard, Russell and Marcus, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Wei-Han Kuan is the honorary archivist of Ridley Melbourne Ministry and Mission College, and a research student investigating the history of Melbourne Anglican evangelicals.