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Walter and Fern Strickland with their son, Robert. Passport Applications for Travel to China, 1919-1920, Volume 35: Emergency Passport Applications: China. Credit: Ancestry.com. Courtesy of Susan Patt.

Strickland, Walter Ernest (1893–1961) and Fern Marilla (Phipps) (1894–1978)

By Milton Hook

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Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

First Published: July 19, 2023

Walter Ernest Strickland (史覺倫, pinyin Shǐ Juélún)’s full-time ministry began in South Carolina and Georgia prior to mission service in China for 22 years. He returned to the United States and served another 13 years in the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference, eight of those years as president of the conference.

Heritage and Education

Walter Strickland was born in Richmond, Virginia, on September 11, 1893. His parents were Junius and Harriet (Garthright) Strickland, who had one other son, Robert Garthright (b. 1898).1 Walter’s father was a minister whose postings took him to Jamaica, Canada, and the United States. Walter, therefore, received his education in various locations, including the mission school at Kingston, Jamaica, Takoma Park, Washington, D.C., Williamsdale Academy, Nova Scotia (1909-1913), and Washington Missionary College (1913-1914). When he was 13, he was baptized in Jamaica by his father.2

Early Ministerial Training

During his senior years in school, Walter spent his summers as a tent master in Washington, D.C. (1908), Fredericton and Harry, New Brunswick (1910, 1911), and Lennon, Michigan (1913). From July 1914 through May 1915, he gained some pastoral experience as an assistant without salary in Savannah, Georgia. He was then granted a license to preach, assisting Elder Carlyle Haynes at Spartanburg and Greenville, South Carolina. In January 1916, he transferred to the Georgia Conference where his father was also serving as a minister.3

Mission Service in China

Walter had married Fern Marilla Phipps at Greenville on November 3, 1915.4 They were students together at Williamsdale Academy. They received an appointment to serve as missionaries in China. Just prior to their departure, Walter was ordained in Los Angeles by elders Arthur Daniells and Eugene Farnsworth on Sabbath, August 10, 1918.5

On arrival in China, Walter began work as treasurer for the Hunan Mission in south-central China and, at the same time, engaged in language study. Twelve months later, he was appointed as the director of the Hupeh (now Hubei) Mission, the neighboring province to the north of Hunan.6 Fern acted as secretary-treasurer for the mission.7 The baptized membership at that time numbered 220.8 Walter experienced outstanding success with the Harvest Ingathering campaign and the sale of Chinese-language health books.9

In mid-1922, Walter transferred north to be the director of the Honan (now Henan) Mission, where the membership numbered 376. Their headquarters was situated in Yencheng (now Yancheng). The mission conducted an intermediate school for 115 students in addition to five elementary schools located at various out-stations. A hospital-dispensary also functioned at Yancheng under his general supervision.10

The Strickland family took a furlough back to America in 1926 and, at the same time, they attended the General Conference Session in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On his return, Walter resumed his role as director of the Honan Mission.11 The 1927 statistics reported the membership had grown to 652 among nine churches.12 However, Walter discovered that, during his absence, civil war had swept Honan, and the mission station at Yancheng, together with the intermediate school and hospital-dispensary, had been looted and badly damaged by soldiers. Extensive repairs were started right away. In the meantime, Walter set up temporary headquarters to the south in Hankow (now Wuhan).13 When the fighting stopped, bandits then filled the political vacuum until government forces regained control. Safe times eventually returned, and Walter embarked on a major re-building program to normalize his Yancheng station, including the school and hospital-dispensary. By the end of 1928, the evangelistic, medical and educational facilities were functioning again after a two-year lapse.14 The following year, 1929, was reported by Walter to be “the best year we have ever had.” Membership rose over 700, and he supervised the building of a new church at Yancheng and additions to the hospital.15

Walter was appointed to be the itinerant evangelist for the Central China Union Mission in mid-1931. He served in this capacity until mid-1935, holding tent crusades throughout the inner provinces.16 On one occasion, in Chengdu in Sichuan Province, Walter and his associates were attacked and injured by an angry mob. Civil authorities forced the closure of the crusade.17

During the five years from mid-1935 through mid-1940, Walter made four moves into different roles. For two years, he was director and Sabbath School secretary of the Kiangsi (now Jiangxi) Mission. In this position, he continued a vigorous evangelistic emphasis, conducting a major campaign in the Kiukiang (now Jiujiang) region with an audience of approximately 700 individuals on a regular basis. The most interested ones were formed into five Bible study groups that culminated in baptisms.18 During 1937/1938, he served as director of the Anhwei Mission with its 20 churches and 732 members.19 This 12-month period was followed by another 12 months as acting superintendent of the East China Union Mission, a difficult period under war conditions that included the scattering of members and even some losing their lives. Chapels and mission homes were looted and destroyed, and church schools were closed. Walter was stationed in Shanghai at the time and had to administer the hinterland with the help of national men who moved from one trouble spot to another.20 Walter’s final brief appointment was made in mid-1939 when he was elected to the role of Ministerial Association secretary for the China Division.21

Homeland Service

Walter and his family sailed from China aboard the “President Pierce” on June 23, 1940, with Walter attending the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.22 The remainder of his service was given in the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference. He was first engaged in pastoral work in Louisville, Kentucky, and Madison, Tennessee.23 He also held the portfolio of Religious Liberty secretary and was a member of the conference executive committee.24 In 1946, he was elected president of the conference that had offices in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, there were 46 churches in the conference with a total membership of 3,808.25 When he retired in 1954, those numbers had grown to 61 churches with 5,123 members.26

Walter and Fern retired to Edneyville, North Carolina. It was there that Walter passed away on January 13, 1961. He was laid to rest in nearby Shepherd Memorial Park in Naples.27 He was survived by Fern and their two sons, Robert Addison, business manager at Pacific Union College, and Lloyd Carlyle, principal of Cedar Lake Academy.28 Fern transferred to California to be near her son, Robert. She enjoyed many years there, passing away on September 7, 1978. She rests in the Saint Helena Cemetery, Saint Helena, California.29

Sources

Allum, F. Arthur. “Hupeh General Meeting.” Asiatic Division Outlook, December 15, 1921.

“Brother W.E. Strickland, director…” Asiatic Division Outlook, January 15, 1922.

“Division Notes.” China Division Reporter, July 1, 1940.

“Evangelism in Chengtu.” China Division Reporter, July/August 1932.

“Fern Marilla (Phipps) Strickland.” Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed June 13, 2022. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/48276901/fern-marilla-strickland.

“Glimpsing Honan Anew.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, February 1928.

Griggs, Frederick. “In the Central China Union.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, November/December 1928.

“Reporting of the Nominating Committee.” China Division Reporter, June 1939.

“Returning from Furlough for Central China.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, August/September 1926.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association. Various years. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

Strickland, Walter E. “Evangelistic Effort in Kiukiang, Kiangsi.” China Division Reporter, November 1936.

Strickland, Walter E. “Honan Mission Director’s Report for 1923.” Asiatic Division Outlook, April 1, 1924.

Strickland, Walter E. “The Honan Mission.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, April 1930.

Strickland, Walter E. “The Hupeh Mission.” Asiatic Division Outlook, April 15, 1920.

“Walter E. Strickland.” ARH, February 23, 1961.

Walter Ernest Strickland Biographical Information Blank. Secretariat Missionary Files, RG 21, Record 114946. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives, Silver Spring, MD (GCA).

“Walter Ernest Strickland.” FamilySearch. Accessed June 13, 2022. https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/GS27-2WQ.

“Walter Ernest Strickland.” Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed June 13, 2022. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/80799444/walter-ernest-strickland.

Notes

  1. “Walter Ernest Strickland,” FamilySearch, accessed June 13, 2022, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/GS27-2WQ.

  2. Walter Ernest Strickland Biographical Information, August 12, 1918. Secretariat Missionary Files, RG 21, Record 114946, GCA.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Walter Ernest Strickland Biographical Information, October 4, 1940. Secretariat Missionary Files, RG 21, Record 114946, GCA.

  5. Walter Ernest Strickland Biographical Information Blank, August 12, 1918. Secretariat Missionary Files, RG 21, Record 114946, GCA.

  6. Ibid.

  7. F. Arthur Allum, “Hupeh General Meeting,” Asiatic Division Outlook, December 15, 1921, 5.

  8. Walter E. Strickland, “The Hupeh Mission,” Asiatic Division Outlook, April 15, 1920, 7-8.

  9. “Brother W.E. Strickland, director…” Asiatic Division Outlook, January 15, 1922, 4.

  10. Walter E. Strickland, “Honan Mission Director’s Report for 1923,” Asiatic Division Outlook, April 1, 1924, 6-7.

  11. “Returning from Furlough for Central China,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, August/September 1926, 11.

  12. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1928, 163.

  13. “Glimpsing Honan Anew,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, February 1928, 4.

  14. Frederick Griggs, “In the Central China Union,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, November/December 1928, 7.

  15. Walter E. Strickland, “The Honan Mission,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, April 1930, 7.

  16. Walter Ernest Strickland Biographical Information Blank, October 4, 1940, Secretariat Missionary Files, RG 21, Record 114946, GCA.

  17. “Evangelism in Chengtu,” China Division Reporter, July/August 1932, 5.

  18. Walter E. Strickland, “Evangelistic Effort in Kiukiang, Kiansi,” China Division Reporter, November 1936, 4.

  19. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1938, 103-104.

  20. Walter E. Strickland, “East China,” China Division Reporter, April 1939, 6.

  21. “Report of the Nominating Committee,” China Division Reporter, June 1939, 20-21.

  22. “Division Notes,” China Division Reporter, July 1, 1940, 8.

  23. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1946, 65-66.

  24. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1943, 61-62.

  25. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1947, 64-65.

  26. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1954, 75-76.

  27. “Walter Ernest Strickland,” Find A Grave Memorial, accessed June 13, 2022, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/80799444/walter-ernest-strickland.

  28. “Walter E. Strickland,” ARH, February 23, 1961, 26.

  29. “Fern Marilla (Phipps) Strickland,” Find A Grave Memorial, accessed June 13, 2022, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/48276901/fern-marilla-strickland.

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Hook, Milton. "Strickland, Walter Ernest (1893–1961) and Fern Marilla (Phipps) (1894–1978)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. July 19, 2023. Accessed February 29, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=98O4.

Hook, Milton. "Strickland, Walter Ernest (1893–1961) and Fern Marilla (Phipps) (1894–1978)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. July 19, 2023. Date of access February 29, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=98O4.

Hook, Milton (2023, July 19). Strickland, Walter Ernest (1893–1961) and Fern Marilla (Phipps) (1894–1978). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved February 29, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=98O4.