Understanding a misunderstood editor

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(Photo: Clark Young)

Pastor Geoffrey E Garne, former editor of Adventist Record (February 1981–September 1986) passed away on Thursday, July 13, at the Bethesda Rest Home in New Zealand. While working on his PhD, Dr Bruce Manners interviewed Pastor Garne and here shares some thoughts on the man he considers one of the most misunderstood editors, who was editor at a very difficult time for the Adventist Church in the South Pacific Division (SPD). His early years in ministry were spent as a pastor in South Africa in the late 1940s. He also served in Zimbabwe and Australia before spending most of his retirement in Auckland. He was a writer, editor and held leadership roles in the Sentinel Publishing Company in Cape Town and also the Australasian (now South Pacific Division) Record. He last served at the Pakuranga Adventist church, now known as the East Auckland City Adventist church as a retired, volunteer pastor.

Pastor Geoff Garne was arguably the most misunderstood editor of Adventist Record. His was a difficult task in four ways.

Pastor Geoff Garne.

First, he came to the role in February 1981, just six months after the Sanctuary Review Committee had met at Glacier View (in the United States) to consider Dr Desmond Ford’s position on the sanctuary teaching. After the meetings, Dr Ford was dismissed.

Dr Ford, an Australian, had supporters and detractors in Australia and New Zealand. Pastor Garne found himself sitting in the “hot seat” attempting to handle the ire of what he called “CBs” (Concerned Brethren) on one side and “Fordites” on the other.

Second, it was widely believed that he had been brought from South Africa to straighten out the Church through Record. The belief was that the South Pacific Division president had met with him—perhaps in South Africa—to instruct him in what he should do. His predecessor, Pastor Robert Parr, certainly believed this to be the case (I interviewed both men about this in the late 1990s).

Third, this was thought to be given validity by his first editorial, “My Mandate”. He wrote, I have received a very clear mandate!” (emphasis his). And quoted Ellen White saying the church presses should “strengthen every pin and pillar of the faith . . . established by the word of God” (Testimonies to the Church Volume 9, page 69).

Fourth, coming from South Africa he could not have understood the depth and bitterness of the divide between the CBs and the Fordites and its impact on the Church.

Following his death it’s time to set the record straight on some things so we can properly honour him.

There was no discussion with the Division president at any time before his appointment. In fact, the opposite is true. He was called to Australia as “editor”. He arrived believing he would be editor of Signs of the Times, which was his role in South Africa. It was only during casual conversation over a meal with Pastor Parr that he realised he was also called to be editor of Record.

As for pressure from the Division leadership, he said there was barely any direction given; he wished there had been more. Instead, the Record—like all Records since the 1970s—mostly fitted the shape and thinking of the editor. If you read the Record of his time you would meet the man, not some officially sanctioned message.

As editor, he received “heaps and heaps and heaps of mail”. He decided he could not accommodate everybody so, “I simply decided I wasn’t going to accommodate anybody”. He limited the number of letters published and devoted the space to “tell the Church about what’s happening in the Division”.

From these letters, he found he had no support from the CBs or Fordites. From travelling in Australia and New Zealand he discovered that some pastors “sort of held me at arm’s length”.

This was a difficult time for the Church, but the Record editor had to cope with it on a weekly basis.

He may have been misunderstood, but now we need to recognise Pastor Garne’s strength in difficult times. When pressured by both sides of a divisive argument, he focused on the task at hand. Under pressure, he was constant in upholding the Church. Importantly, he remained true to himself and to his God despite the pressure.

He served as editor until September 1986. He then entered pastoral ministry in North New Zealand.