Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Noffs, Theodore Delwin (Ted) (1926–1995)

by Garry W. Trompf

This article was published online in 2019

Theodore Delwin Noffs (1926–1995), Methodist and Uniting Church minister and social activist, was born on 14 August 1926 at Mudgee, New South Wales, second of three children of German-born Theodore Erwin Bernhardt Noffz, travelling salesman, hunter, and artist (and an atheist), and his wife Leila Eva Mary, née Roth, who was from an immigrant-German winegrowing family at Eurunderee, near Mudgee (and a devoted Anglican). With his parents moving to Sydney to escape poverty in the bush during the Depression, Ted completed his primary school education at Parramatta, and went on to Parramatta High School (1939–41). He frequently returned to his roots at Eurunderee, which he would later describe as ‘Henry Lawson Country’ (Noffs 1983). Gaining a job in sales at the engineering company McPherson’s Ltd, he studied engineering and for his Leaving certificate at night at North Sydney Technical College.

Although brought up Anglican, by 1943 Noffs had joined the Methodist Church, which he had attended during holidays with his maternal grandmother. An anti-modernist evangelical with limited book learning, he served enthusiastically as a youth leader and local preacher around North Sydney. Deciding to become a Methodist minister, in 1946 he entered the Evangelists’ Institute, Leigh Theological College, Strathfield South, to finish his schooling to qualify to enter university, gain pastoral experience (at Glen Davis, near Mudgee), and earn a licentiate of theology, awarded by Melbourne College of Divinity (1950). He also began studying towards a bachelor of arts through the University of Sydney, but did not complete the degree. On 17 March 1951 at the Methodist Church, Crows Nest, he married Margaret Lorraine Tipping, a deaconess who had also worked ‘outback.’ He was ordained as a minister in 1952, and the Noffs were posted to Wilcannia, a large circuit with a sizable Aboriginal population, and which involved long desert visitations. From 1953 to 1957 he served at Lockhart, in the Riverina. The young, discerning churchman sensed depths in Aboriginal spirituality, and conceded ordinary piety lost relevance in the realities of survival in the bush.

In 1957 Noffs travelled with his family to study at the Garrett Biblical Institute, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States of America (MA, 1959). During this time his parish duties included inner suburban Chicago. He returned to Australia to become the new associate minister of Central Methodist Mission, Sydney. From 1959 to 1963 he worked with its superintendent, (Sir) Alan Walker, who was already renowned for his Mission to the Nation campaigns. By 1961 Noffs had better organised the highly patronised teenage cabaret at the mission. In 1963 he helped Walker found the Lifeline counselling service.

Now maturing in his analytical skills and troubled by old-style evangelism, Noffs began to develop a critique of Walker’s methods, deciding public mission evangelism was too manipulative (and eventually opposing Billy Graham’s crusades). Social disintegration had to be solved by reaching beyond denominational borders hardened by ‘do-gooders’ (Noffs 1979, 70), and through trusting alienated individuals’ potential for self-discovery. The first practical consequence was his daring initiative in 1964 to set up the Wayside Chapel of the Cross in flats owned by the Methodists in Hughes Street, Kings Cross, aiming to minister independently in Sydney’s most seamy district, which was home to bohemians and disaffected inner-city youth. Services held in the simply designed, small chapel downstairs could be seen via closed circuit television throughout the building. The ‘Upper Room’ coffee shop in the flat’s second storey became a haven for the distressed, while a poets’ corner provided a space for creative expression. An aluminium caravan functioned as a mobile chapel and counselling service. With Charles Perkins and others, he co-founded the Aboriginal Affairs Association (later the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs), which started a cultural centre near Sydney’s central business district. He helped Perkins and others to organise the Freedom Ride bus tour to counter racism in country towns in 1965.

Other experiments at the chapel included a recording studio, theatrical productions, and journals, as well as special centres and foundations. The chapel initiated the country’s first drug referral centre (1967); 24-hour crisis centre (1968); and Life Education Centre (1979), all providing models for other cities and countries in handling and preventing drug addiction. Addressing the West’s looming drug epidemic humanely and spiritually made Noffs world famous. He published several books, including The Wayside Chapel: A Radical Christian Experiment in Today’s World (1969), By What Authority? (1979), The Summit of Daring (writings selected by Marilyn Stacy, 1981), and The Mark of God: Towards a New Australian Spirituality (1984). His ideas coalesced into a vision of a supra-religious ‘family of humanity.’

Noffs had established the Wayside Foundation in 1970 as a means to provide a formal structure for the chapel’s services and to aid fund-raising. Coordinating the work, fund-raising, conducting funerals after tragic overdoses, wrangling with policy-makers over ‘drug offensives,’ and undertaking overseas consultancies all brought Noffs mounting stress. He also faced charges of unfaithfulness to the doctrines of the church (in 1975, for watering down Christ’s atoning efficacy) and sacramental irregularity (in 1982, for ‘naming’ rather than baptising children); both were dismissed. In 1985 he was named Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies and Australian Humanitarian of the Year by the National Australia Bank, and in 1986 he received the Advance Australia Foundation’s Advance Australia award.

The ‘wild man of welfare’ and the church’s ‘bucking bronco’ (Jarrett 1997, 1) suffered a stroke in 1987, which disabled him and left his wife and his son Wesley and daughter-in-law Amanda to carry on the work. He retired from the Wayside Chapel in 1991 and died on 6 April 1995 at Paddington. After a funeral at St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral, he was buried in Northern Suburbs Methodist cemetery; his wife and three sons survived him. His chief legacies are the Wayside Chapel’s continuing work; the Ted Noffs Foundation (as the Wayside Foundation was renamed in 1992); and the drug rehabilitation residential care it provides (Program for Adolescent Life Management, or PALM).

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Clark, Jennifer. ‘Methodism and the Challenge of “the Sixties”.’ In Methodism in Australia: A History, edited by Glen O’Brien and Hilary M. Carey, 149–64. Farnham, UK, and Burlington, VT, USA: Ashgate, 2015
  • Jarratt, Phil. Ted Noffs: Man of the Cross. Sydney: Macmillan, 1997
  • Noffs, Ted. By What Authority? Sydney: Methuen of Australia, 1979
  • Noffs, Ted. Childhood Memories of Henry Lawson Country. Sydney: Wayside Foundation, 1983
  • Ward, Winifred. Men Ahead of Their Time: Bill Hobbin, Dudley Hyde, Ted Noffs, Charles Birch, Norman Webb. Collingwood, Vic.: Joint Board of Christian Education, 1996

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Garry W. Trompf, 'Noffs, Theodore Delwin (Ted) (1926–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/noffs-theodore-delwin-ted-27721/text35400, published online 2019, accessed online 25 May 2019.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019