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Preston, Arthur William (1912–1985)

by Jennifer Noble

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Arthur William Preston (1912-1985), Methodist and Uniting Church minister, was born on 14 October 1912 at Yeronga Park, Brisbane, eldest child of Queensland-born parents William George Bond Preston, warehouseman’s assistant, and his wife Rose Ann, née Walden. Arthur attended Sandgate and Eagle Junction State schools and completed an apprenticeship as an upholsterer. At 19 he felt called to ministry; he served as a Methodist home missionary at Cairns before entering King’s College, University of Queensland, in 1935. He was awarded his licentiate in theology in 1938 and was ordained on 3 March 1941. On 7 March that year at Hamilton Methodist Church he married Clara (Clare) Gertrude Green, daughter of W. H. Green.

After serving at Mareeba (1940-42) and at West End, Townsville (1943), Preston was field secretary (1944-47) for the Queensland Methodist centenary celebrations, involved in fundraising and conducting evangelistic missions throughout Queensland. In 1948-62 he was superintendent minister at Brisbane’s West End Methodist Mission, where his evangelical outreach developed a youth focus; he organised youth fellowship rallies and in 1960 launched a ‘teen cabaret’ at West End. He was a member of the church’s national board of evangelism, and State director of Crusade for Christ (1949-52) and Mission to the Nation (1953-56). A dynamic preacher, he sometimes adopted unorthodox methods to ‘take the Church to the people’. From 1955 he held Sunday evening services in ‘neutral territory’ at the Lyric picture theatre, West End, attracting up to one thousand people each time. He broadcast ‘plain talks for the people’ through a weekly radio program on 4BK and wrote a column for the Courier-Mail. In We Offer Christ (1962) he chronicled his years at the mission.

In 1963-66 Preston was associate minister at Adelaide’s Central Methodist Mission. He was responsible for the Sunday night services and the mission’s radio ministry on 5KA. In 1966-68 he was minister responsible for the Glen Iris circuit, Melbourne. Despite strong opposition from some in the Methodist Conference of Victoria who considered him too evangelical and inexperienced, in 1968 he succeeded Sir Irving Benson as superintendent minister at Melbourne’s Central Methodist Mission (from 1977 Wesley Central Mission). He silenced many critics by seeking their support and advice; an enthusiastic, innovative administrator, he transformed the mission during his fourteen years as superintendent.

Preston’s ministry was characterised by extraordinary energy and vision, compelling evangelism and compassionate social service. Believing that word and deed must be combined in order to ‘offer Christ’ to people effectively, he established and directed numerous community service programs. He founded the Blue Nursing Service in Brisbane in 1953 and set up the Lifeline telephone counselling service in both Adelaide (1963) and Melbourne (1971). Singles in the City, Kids under Kanvas and Do Care were all Preston initiatives at Melbourne’s Central Mission. He helped to establish a residential care facility for people with Huntington’s disease, which was opened in October 1981 and named the Arthur Preston Centre. In December he retired but remained active in the church. He had produced several books based on his sermons, including Plain Talks for the People (1955), Greater than Ourselves (1957), The Bondage of the Free (1975) and The Many Splendoured Thing (1980).

Believing that ‘the church must be concerned about social and political issues, about human rights and justice’, Preston co-founded in 1970 the Australian committee for the World Conference on Religion and Peace and remained its chairman for some years. He was a member of Amnesty International, and an outspoken critic of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War and of sporting ties with South Africa. An active member (1953-85) of Rotary International, he enjoyed the camaraderie it offered, and the opportunity to network among business and community leaders, from whom he gained financial support for mission projects. The Rotary Club of Melbourne presented him with its vocational service award in 1983. He was appointed OBE in 1963 and AO in 1982.

A talented sportsman, Preston had been a cyclist in his youth, played A-grade cricket until he was 50 and swam and played tennis in his later years. He enjoyed travelling and read voraciously. A handsome, blue-eyed extrovert with an excellent tenor voice, he was an accomplished performer; for thirty-five years he entertained guests at his annual Christmas night party for lonely people. ‘The Impossible Dream’ was his favourite song. Survived by his wife and their son and three daughters, he died on 19 March 1985 at Box Hill, Melbourne, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • 25 Years, a History of the Blue Nursing Service of Queensland (1978)
  • R. Howe and S. Swain, The Challenge of the City (1993)
  • N. Preston, Beyond the Boundary (2006)
  • Methodist Times (Brisbane), 8 Aug 1957, p 2
  • Action (Melbourne), Oct 1981, p 1
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 Jan 1982, p 4
  • private information.

Citation details

Jennifer Noble, 'Preston, Arthur William (1912–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/preston-arthur-william-15531/text26744, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 January 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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