The death of John Allison has taken from the Presbyterian Church in Canada one of the last of those Evangelical stalwarts who did so much to keep the spiritual life of the denomination alive in the 1970s and 1980s. John was a man of God who walked humbly before the Lord and sought justice and reconciliation to all.
He was the only child of a man of deep principle, a Highlander who left Scotland in that mass emigration after the First World War to work in the mines in Trail, British Columbia. For his sabbatarian principles, and his refusal to treat Sunday like any other workday, he lost his job and was reduced to poverty. John’s parents moved to Calgary where his mother Penny served in domestic work. After John M Alison Sr.’s early death Penny married Rev Clarence Pickup.
John showed early academic promise, with great discipline in his work. He went on to study at the University of Toronto and was a 1960 prize-winning graduate of Knox College. The following year he pursued graduate study in Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. He later received a D. Min. from Fuller Seminary.
In 1961 Robert Taylor of Medicine Hat was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCC and during his busy moderatorial year John became his assistant. The position had an important consequence when John married Pat Taylor, his daughter. John was ordained and served at St Andrew’s Kimberley, a congregation in the Kootenays, where he succeeded Ed McKinlay. From there in 1969 he went to Cheyne Church, Stoney Creek, ON, again succeeding a gifted evangelical, Merrill Reside. His ministry at Cheyne saw growth both spiritual and numerical. He moved on in 1984 to St Andrew’s Islington Toronto where he spent twelve years with a strong pulpit presence and warm pastoral compassion. At Islington he provided a home for the Renewal Fellowship Within The Presbyterian Church in Canada. In 1996 Pat and John left for the Synod of the Atlantic provinces to become Youth Consultant for ten years and John was Interim Pastor for five charges in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. He retired after thirteen years due to advancing Multiple Sclerosis. Pat then served for three years at St Andrews, Moncton, and was also regional representative of Interserve. Recently they moved to Smithville on the Niagara peninsula to be near family. “The highest calling we’ve experienced,” Pat reflected in retrospect, “is that of prayer, prayer for youth, families, congregations and the advancing of the gospel globally.”
As one who lived with John as room-mate during his year at Westminster Seminary I can testify to his essential goodness and godliness. I have a vivid memory of John, who occupied the lower of the bunk beds we shared, every morning getting up at 6:00 to pray. The image of the soles of his carpet slippers as he kneeled by his bed has stayed with me (and rebuked me) all of my ministry. Another picture of John I treasure is seeing him in his study at Islington with his Hebrew Old Testament open, preparing a gospel message. All John’s life was lived in the glow of his Lord and Master. Nowhere was that faith more authenticated and confirmed than in his final years of suffering. I last saw John six weeks before his death and through his pain it was the same John: a faint twinkle in his eye, that familiar nervous laugh, the same patient devotion to his Master as we prayed together.
John and Pat had four children: Naomi married to Mark Young, Rev. Andrew married to Colleen and lead pastor at St Paul’s Leaskdale, Sean married to Lezlie, since 1997 a Wycliffe Bible translator in northern Cameroon and recently as well an instructor at the Wycliffe training school in Langley, BC, and Bonnie, married to Mike Hamilton.
In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as Christian approaches the Celestial City he shouts out to Hopeful “Be of good cheer, my brother: I feel the bottom, and it is good.” At the end, after years of suffering, John Allison felt the bottom and it was good. He is receiving his reward for years of faithful and Christ-honouring ministry and his children, as they did at his funeral 17 August, rise up and call him blessed as do many of his spiritual offspring.