This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981
Lionel Bale Fletcher (1877-1954), Congregational minister and evangelist, was born on 22 May 1877 at Maitland, New South Wales, eighth child of John Fletcher, teacher and Methodist lay preacher, and his wife Eliza, née Bale. Three of their sons became ordained Methodist ministers, including Michael Scott Fletcher (1868-1947), professor of philosophy at the University of Queensland in 1923-38; all seven sons were preachers.
After completing his schooling at Newington College, Sydney, Fletcher when 16 went to sea as an apprentice hand on the sailing-ship Macquarie. After the return voyage from England he worked on a brother's property, near Peak Hill. Here, in July 1896, he was converted. In December 1897, attending a meeting of the annual Petersham evangelical conference, he had a second decisive religious experience. This convinced him that a full Christian life was only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit. Fletcher was a clerk when he married Maude Harris Basham on 24 January 1900. She was an able speaker and musician and a partner in all his subsequent work, but the marriage temporarily blocked entry to the ministry. After working as a miner and journalist at Charters Towers, in 1905 he was accepted by the New South Wales Congregational Union as a home mission agent and extramural theological student. He was ordained on 24 March 1908 and served briefly at Kurri Kurri.
Fletcher had three highly successful pastorates: at Port Adelaide (1909-15) where he followed Rev Joseph Kirby; at the Wood Street church, Cardiff, Wales (1916-22); and at the Beresford Street church, Auckland, New Zealand (1923-32). In all three he preached to convert and, beginning in South Australia, became increasingly involved in wider evangelism. He was active in South Australia's campaign for six o'clock closing and in New Zealand, for prohibition. He also denounced drink, gambling and lipstick. Another abiding interest was the Christian Endeavour Union, of which he became world vice-president. In 1922-23 he and his wife conducted the successful 'New Life Campaign' in Britain.
In 1931 Fletcher returned to England to lead a six-month youth evangelical campaign which drew in thousands and, he claimed, was 'the greatest and most inspiring religious movement England has known in this generation'. In September 1932 he became 'Empire Evangelist' for the Movement for World Evangelization, newly formed in London. He broke with this group in 1935, but continued full-time work in England with the National Council of the Evangelical Free Churches. Probably his greatest campaigns were in South Africa in 1934 and 1936. In 1941 he returned to settle in Sydney. He retained his commitment to evangelism, but had by now lost much of his former energy and believed that he saw about him a new religious indifference. He died in hospital at Mosman, after a short illness, on 19 February 1954, survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.
Fletcher was influenced in his evangelistic work by American revivalists such as Dwight L. Moody and J. Wilbur Chapman. His preaching was unsensational in style, direct, forceful and humorous, with a fund of stories drawn from his wide experience of life. He employed his gift for writing on occasional journalism, and on evangelism and the Christian life; as 'Uncle Leo' he ran a children's programme on radio station IYA Auckland.
Hugh Jackson, 'Fletcher, Lionel Bale (1877–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fletcher-lionel-bale-6195/text10649, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 April 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981