Former British Baptist head David Russell dies - Word&Way

Former British Baptist head David Russell dies

BRISTOL, England (ABP) – David Russell, who served as general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain during a crucial period, has died. He was 94.

As British Baptists’ top executive from 1967 to 1982, Russell aided Baptists in Eastern Europe during the height of the Cold War. He also served as a pastor and a college president in his long career.

“We give thanks to God for the remarkable life of David Russell,” said current BUGB General Secretary Jonathan Edwards. “He was a man of immense personal warmth, great intellect, and a razor-sharp wit.”

Russell served as pastor of churches in the English towns of Berwick and Oxford as well as Acton, in metropolitan London. He was also principal — or president — of Rawdon College, a Baptist school that merged with a Baptist school in Manchester in 1963 to become Northern Baptist College. Russell then served as co-principal of the new school.

“As a local minister, college principal and general secretary David made a huge contribution to the life of our Baptist Union,” said Tony Peck, a Briton who serves as general secretary of the European Baptist Federation. “As general secretary he became a much-loved and greatly respected statesman, whose counsel was welcomed not only within our Union but far beyond, both ecumenically and internationally. We will remember his family in our prayers at this time.”

Peck particularly lauded Russell’s role in supporting Baptists behind the Iron Curtain at the peak of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe.

“The way he dealt with the communist authorities, fearlessly but with humor, caused a number of breakthroughs,” Peck said. “He was a very significant campaigner for freedom in the communist era.”

Russell was also active in helping Eastern European Christians there acquire good theological literature through the translations committee of the EBF. He secured funding for the translation of William Barclay's New Testament commentaries into Russian; these formed the core of many pastors' libraries in Russian-speaking regions.

In 1982, Russell retired to southwestern English city of Bristol with his wife, Marion, and their two children. He was a member of Westbury-on-Trym Baptist Church, where he was active until shortly before his death.

“David wore his learning lightly,” the church’s pastor, Colin Norris, said. “He had the humility to still be on a journey of discovery and learning. In the last couple of years his regular trips to hospital for dialysis put him for hours at a time alongside people with very different backgrounds and experiences to his own. This caused him to ponder afresh the challenges of sharing faith in the contemporary world.”

David Syme Russell was born in 1917 and raised in Glasgow, Scotland. Although he showed significant talent at soccer, he felt called to the ministry at an early age and won several awards while studying at the University of Glasgow’s Trinity College. After serving as a pastor in a town along the English-Scottish border, he went on to complete further study at Regent’s Park College, the Baptist division of the University of Oxford.

He wrote and published 14 books – six of them after his retirement. He also served as the BUGB’s president for two years after his retirement.

A memorial service for Russell is scheduled for Nov. 18 at 3:30 p.m. at Westbury-on-Trym Baptist Church.


Mark Woods is editor of The Baptist Times, the BUGB’s weekly newspaper.