Life Sketch of Arthur Nelson Patrick

Life Sketch of Arthur Nelson Patrick

Feb 23, 1934 – March 8, 2013

The youngest child of Bertha Emma (nee Pocock) and William Nelson Patrick, Arthur was one of over 1000 babies delivered in the Cooranbong area by his aunt, Nurse Annie Conley.  He was born in a front room of the second-last house on the left in Avondale Road, going toward Avondale School.

Shortly after his fourth birthday, along with his mother and sister Ivy, Arthur rode in the cab of “Friday” Wainman’s truck from Cooranbong to Pappinbarra Junction, northeast of Wauchope.  Siblings, Alice and Joe, followed on horseback.  They were about to become dairy farmers.  Between ages 8-11 Arthur attended the Upper Pappinbarra Public School but formal education was interrupted when Arthur and his mother relocated to Bellangry, 15 km away.  For the next five years Arthur’s education revolved around managing a milking herd, sharpening his “Kelly” axe and mastering the peg-and-rake crosscut saw.  The initial task of clearing the re-growth on the home 45 acres, followed by contract timber-cutting with elder brother, Joe, reinforced an ethic of dawn-to-dusk work.  In quiet times young Arthur could be found catching snakes or riding his horse, Donny, 22 rifle over his back, probably lost in bush poetry, much of which he learned in the saddle twixt home and the timber.

One November morning in 1949 as he and Joe began the face cut on a giant Blackbutt Arthur was reflecting on his long-term plans.  By the time they had brought the tree crashing to the ground and sawn it into three long logs, Arthur had registered the distinct conviction that he should go back to Cooranbong, to the Australasian Missionary College (AMC), now Avondale College of Higher Education.  Alternately studying and working at various jobs to support his secondary school study, the years 1950-1953 saw him lay the academic foundations which would later serve him so well.  His public Leaving Certificate results would have taken him to Sydney University but instead, in 1954 he enrolled in AMC’s first intake for the BA (Theology) degree offered under the auspices of Pacific Union College, from which he graduated in 1957.  The next year saw Arthur appointed to Christchurch, SNZ, as pastor evangelist.

Two years of lonely correspondence were rewarded on January 14, 1959, when Arthur met special Avondale friend, Joan Merle Howse at the altar in the Papanui Church: “the best thing I ever did”, has been the ongoing verdict of the groom!  It was a union which would not only produce three additional New Zealanders: Zanita Faye (1960), Adrielle Joy (1963) and Leighton Ward (1965), but enrich the lives of countless associates, students and church members.

In December 1967 the Patrick family embarked on the Australis at Auckland, bound for Elgin, Illinois, for more parish ministry. Then in 1970 it was off to the seminary at Berrien Springs and the post graduate study of which Arthur had dreamed since Avondale days.  By August 1972, after receiving special permission to overload, he had completed a nine-quarter MDiv and also a four-quarter MA in systematic theology.  To supply family needs Joan taught primary school while Arthur variously assisted with the Andrews University dairy, ran a landscaping business and taught undergraduate students in religion.  Unfortunately, the doctoral program in which he wanted to enroll was not yet accredited, so following the suggestion of the Seminary Dean, W.G.C. Murdoch, Arthur took his DMin at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.  June 1973 brought graduation which was followed by a return to Australia via a three-month family holiday in Europe.

Plans for church ministry in Sydney were quickly trumped by a call, instigated by Dr Des Ford, to Avondale where the Patrick family would be located for the next 18 years.  Whether this had anything to do with the children’s plea to a well-placed Church administrator that they not be sentenced to a city will never be known!  Arthur lectured in the Theology Faculty, served as the first director of the Ellen G White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, coordinated Avondale’s academic processes as Registrar and served for one year as College Church pastor. During this Avondale time he performed many student and family weddings.  Despite typical dual-career challenges Arthur and Joan always reserved Sundays as family time.  These were spent renovating the old house on the hill, on horseback and in gardens – reminiscent, perhaps, of so much early experience.  Later there were waterskiing exploits at Shingles and annual holidays at Myall Lakes with Fay and Leon Olsen and a wide circle of friends.

In the face of some employment uncertainty during this period Arthur also resumed formal study.  He credits Dr Don Hansen’s undergraduate Australian history classes at Avondale with equipping him to undertake an MLitt at the University of New England, a Distinction in which opened the way for PhD studies at Newcastle that focused on the interface between religion and society in Australia, a program from which he graduated in 1992.

Also in 1992 there was a move to Sydney.  Arthur, having requested a change, was appointed senior chaplain at Sydney Adventist Hospital, a position he enjoyed until 1996.  Then followed two years as an associate professor of church history and pastoral ministry at La Sierra University in California, where he relished association with colleagues such as Dr Paul Landa and the opportunity to attend meetings of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies and the American Academy of Religion.  A final return in 1998 to Cooranbong, and to grandchildren Braden, Kelsy, Jack, Jedda and Tom, commenced a well-earned but busy retirement.

Since ceasing full-time employment Arthur enjoyed presenting guest lectures and symposia at La Sierra, at Avondale as an honorary senior research fellow and at various conferences and Adventist Forums.  In addition, he was involved with the supervision of PhD students.  There were also trips abroad, visiting Leighton and Emma in Vermont and with friends and family to Africa, Scandinavia, Turkey, Greece, the UK and New Zealand.

While Arthur’s winsome way with both the spoken and written word was first noted during his Avondale student days, in later years his word craft became legendary.  While this gift was generally employed to illuminate precisely the topic at hand he was equally capable, when he deemed it necessary, of skillfully hiding behind his utterance.

Although Arthur’s personality was rather irenic his writings were challenging for some.  In his quest to help his church grow in understanding he could also, at times, present his view with some force.

One of his most stimulating hobbies was writing for publication, an activity that began at Avondale in the 1950s and persisted for six decades.  His scholarly articles listed on ReseachOnline@Avondale have currently attracted 1,755 downloads and his own website, entitled, commenced late in 2011, has so far attracted over 11,000 visitors.  His last article was posted with characteristic determination just days before his death.  The SDA Periodical Index lists some121 titles from his prolific pen.  There is a much longer list of popular articles not covered by this index.

Arthur received a number of honours during his life and just in the last few days before his death he was advised by Dr Larry Geraty that he had been awarded the prestigious Charles E Weniger medallion, surely a most appropriate benediction to a life of scholarship.

He fought a successful battle against cancer for some 12 years, only to be diagnosed just weeks ago, after a wonderful NZ family holiday, with an aggressive and untreatable abdominal malignancy.  He had sat at too many such bedsides not to know what lay ahead yet his calm acceptance, his Christian faith and his courage inspired us all.  Fortunately, his mind remained clear.  Although Joe, Ivy, and Alice predeceased him Arthur is survived by his brother John.

Arthur was quick to recognise unfairness or lack of charity in the way certain individuals and groups were treated, particularly by the Church he loved.  This led him to expend himself on unpopular issues of social justice, such as the equality of women in the SDA Organisation, protection against abuse and exploitation of all kinds, and the better understanding of homosexuality.

Looking further ahead than most, he also possessed keen insight into more academic issues facing Adventism, such as developing an adequate understanding of the ministry of Ellen White, correctly contextualising the theological positions of our denominational past and exploring the interface between Christianity and science.  Arthur was totally unafraid of evidence.  His was the ability to calmly and perceptively analyse the data and masterfully synthesise a response.

For those who would seek fairness and justice for all, for those who would combine total honesty, caring pastoral concern and tireless scholarship in a mission to better their Church and for those who would be a devoted spouse and parent, I can hold up no better model than Arthur Nelson Patrick.

By Lynden Rogers