For Glasgow, Scotland and the World
Andy Hunter pays tribute to former Scottish President of FIEC, Gavin Burns McAllister, who was called home in February. Gavin was also Scottish Chairman of the Zambesi Mission and Pastor Emeritus of Finnieston Evangelical Church, Glasgow.
Gavin Burns McAllister
11 February 1919 – 21 February 2018
February 2018 marked the passing of two faithful servants of Jesus Christ – both converted in 1934 and who died a day apart aged 99 years old. Two men who for more than 80 years preached the gospel, served the church and led missionary outreach across cultures and continents.
One, of course, was internationally famous and whose passing received worldwide media coverage.
The other was little known outside a small inner-city church and a dwindling group of compatriots. Nevertheless Gavin McAllister, like Billy Graham, can have been assured of a wonderful welcome into the presence of the Lord.
‘The Bishop of Flotta’
The second of three boys, Gavin was born in Glasgow, the city he loved and gave so much of his life to, in February 1919. However, it was in the Highlands that he came to faith aged 15 before quickly becoming a ‘boy preacher’ in his early Christian years.
Like many of his generation the Second World War called Gavin into Military Service where he served he served in Dover and Orkney as a supply clerk and as a Telecommunications Engineer. Throughout these years (1940-46) he so stood out for Christ that his fellow servicemen nicknamed him ‘The Bishop of Flotta’ (after one the Orkney islands).
After the war Gavin graduated from Glasgow University and became a Chartered Accountant working in the NHS. It was an occupation he excelled in and gave him many opportunities to share his faith in the wider world. On one hospital visit he was told he could not eat with the senior staff but would have to lunch with the nurses. Gavin was utterly unfazed by this having no pretensions or desire for status – indeed it quite amused him as the previous day he’d dinned with the Duke of Edinburgh while visiting elsewhere.
If there was one place that truly had Gavin’s heart it was Finnieston in Glasgow – an inner city dockland area on the Clyde. It was here that he assisted his father Walter in outreach work to its predominantly working class men and women. This included the ‘Muffler meetings’ – mufflers being scarfs worn by the many unemployed men to hide their lack of clean shirts and ties.
1961 was a special year for Gavin, he became the founding pastor of what was to become Finnieston Evangelical Church. It was also the year he married his beloved Jean, who was to serve with him until her own passing in 2016.
Being Scottish, Gavin’s most significant memory of 1966 was not football – rather it was eating his first Asian meal, the first of many! The 1960’s saw the beginning of what would become a large Asian community in Glasgow. Most were from Muslim and Sikh backgrounds but a number came from Indian and Pakistani Christian communities.
Gavin was quick to welcome them and the church became a spiritual home for Asian Christians who today lead the church. His gospel heart was seen in his willingness to adapt the services to be as accessible as possible to this new group – including translation into Punjabi and Sunday lunch becoming curry and pakora. He would later become Chairman of ‘The Fellowship of Faith for Muslims’ in Scotland.
Home & Abroad
While firmly rooted in local church ministry Gavin was not parochial but possessed a big vision for gospel work both nationally and internationally. He served on the Scottish Council of the Zambesi Mission becoming its chairmen in the 1970s. After ‘retirement’ he visited Malawi and preached around the country.
At the heart of his national gospel concern was the desire to see independent gospel churches, like Finnieston EC, work together for the cause of Christ. Key to this for Gavin was FIEC.
He served as our Scottish Treasurer and then as Scottish President on three occasions (1980-81, 1988-89 & 1991-92). In these roles he travelled throughout Scotland visiting churches and encouraging leaders and congregations alike – a ministry still remembered as far north as the Shetlands where his teaching was particularly appreciated.
Along with all this he was a self-taught pianist, he undertook theological training, and rose to become Chief Financial Accountant of Argyle & Bute Health Board (with responsibility, for the then new, computer accounting across all West of Scotland Health Boards). The effect of the latter was that Gavin undertook all his many ministry responsibilities, as he himself put it ‘free of charge’.
He was blessed with a long-life and good health, he lived modestly and never flagged in using all he had for the advancement of the gospel. Even in his 98th year when it was suggested that renewing his FIEC Marriage Celebrant status might not be necessary – he thought it would be handy to retain it.
Ahead of his time
Gavin McAllister showed throughout his life a love for Jesus Christ, a concern for the church and a passion for mission. He was ahead of his time in many ways – seeing the opportunity to reach out to new minority communities and being willing to change in order to do so. He saw the need for independent churches to be connected and have a vision bigger than themselves. He worked ‘bi-vocationally’ using his wider skills to support his ministry work.
He and Jean had no children but their legacy is a spiritual family crossing generations of men and women, from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultures, who were brought to faith, pastored and inspired for Christ.
Heaven is a vibrant multi-ethnic and international city – Gavin will love it there.