Graham Hamilton Reddell
October 17, 1934 – April 8, 2011
Graham Reddell was born in Christchurch as the country struggled to emerge from the Great Depression, and and died in Christchurch as the city began to grapple with the challenges of rebuilding after the earthquakes.
Graham was an only child. Both his parents were active in Oxford Terrace Baptist Church.
Leaving school at 15, he joined the BNZ, but before long struck out on his own, running a book and stationery shop in Riccarton.
Graham was a leader of the Bible Class movement in Canterbury, and it was through this involvement that romance blossomed. In 1959 Graham married Norah Holland, and together they threw themselves into the young Bryndwr Baptist congregation.
Graham’s passion was people and the outward ministry of the church. In the early 1960s, however, his application for ministry training was turned down by Baptist College – in those days, applicants with a wife and baby were not encouraged. But the sense of call would not be denied.
Graham worked for several years for Ballantynes department store in Christchurch. In 1969, he took what was then an unusual back door route into ministry. He answered an advertisement in the NZ Baptist to become what was, in Anglican parlance, a “house for duty” pastor of Kawerau Baptist Church.
There was a manse but little or no stipend on offer. The church secretary held a senior position in the mill, and arranged a four day a week job at Tasman. The rest of the time, Graham served as pastor.
Kawerau – a small town with lots of migrants and a significant Maori population – was about as different from Christchurch as possible. The church flourished during the following three and a half years but Graham needed to regularise his professional status and deepen his own training. And so another backdoor entry followed. Accepted for Baptist College from the start of 1973, then-Principal Ayson Clifford arranged for a small struggling congregation to call Graham as part-time pastor during his college years. Merrilands Baptist revived (and became Onehunga-One Tree Hill) during Graham’s time, first as part-time student pastor and then as a trained and ordained minister.
Five years at Wellington South followed, before Graham and Norah returned home to Christchurch to take up another struggling cause: Christchurch institution the Richmond Mission, which had recently become North Avon Baptist. The church flourished almost beyond recognition in the following 14 years.
There were new people, new buildings, new programmes. And Graham himself was actively involved in the surrounding community – that included leading a successful campaign to allow a new neighbourhood supermarket that competitors wanted to block, and an unsuccessful attempt to block a community corrections center in the heart of suburban Richmond.
After almost 30 years of professional ministry, all made possible by the unstinting support of Norah in pursuit of a shared vision, Graham “retired” at the start of 1998. It was never clear that the word had much meaning for him.
Having been the Baptist representative on the Temperance Alliance, he became a director and then chairman of Ansvar Insurance in New Zealand. In 1998 he served as President of the Baptist Union (following in the footsteps of his uncle and great-uncle). A profusion of boards and committees and trusts occupied his time, and those serving with him were rarely in doubt about his views on how they might best serve the needs of others.
Graham’s passion was people, especially those in special need or on the margins of society. His life was poured out in helping to build God’s kingdom in the communities in which he served and lived.
In later years, ill health began to take a toll, but it never seemed to slow him that much. Some years ago he and Norah returned to the congregation of their childhood, Oxford Terrace, but his involvements with other people and their needs remained widespread.
The February 22 earthquake completed the destruction of the Oxford Terrace building. It also left Norah and Graham instantly homeless and, at the time, with only the few possessions they had walked out of their house with. The immense stress of the post-earthquake uncertainty probably hastened Graham’s unexpected death on April 8.
A service at a funeral home just blocks from the shattered ruins of Oxford Terrace was perhaps fitting testimony to Graham’s hope, expressed by the writer of Hebrews: “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come”
Graham is survived by Norah, three children, two daughters-in-law, and six grandchildren.
– Michael Reddell