Story: Orange, William Alfred

Page 1 - Biography

Orange, William Alfred

1889–1966

Anglican clergyman

This biography was written by Jeremy J. Clark and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

William Alfred Orange was born on 9 August 1889 in Woolston, Christchurch, the second of eleven children of Albert Edward Orange, a wool-classer, and his wife, Helen Brenda Hinkley, a nurse. After a period in Auckland the family returned to Christchurch and William attended Christchurch Normal School. They then moved to Kaikoura where his father opened a small saddlery business. William went to school in Kaikoura from 1899 to 1904, sang in the choir of the local Anglican church, and experienced personal conversion.

Returning to Christchurch with his family in 1904, Orange worked in retail outlets. An earnest youth, he was shocked by the worldly behaviour of his companions. He came under Brethren influence and for a time considered leaving the Anglican church. He began studying in his spare time and in 1914 entered College House, the senior department of Christ's College, to study theology. In 1916 Orange enrolled at Canterbury College, studying Greek, Hebrew and philosophy. He was called up for military service in 1918 and spent two miserable months at camp in Featherston; the coarse conduct of his fellow recruits appalled him. He was eventually declared medically unfit and returned to his studies.

Orange became secretary of the Canterbury College Students' Association in 1919 and head of College House in 1918–19. He clashed with College House's principal, Canon J. R. Wilford, over compulsory attendance at services and what he saw as excessive ritualism. In 1919 he gained his BA, was ordained a deacon and began a two-year curacy at St Saviour's, Sydenham. He was awarded his LTh in 1920. From 1921 to 1923 he travelled to England, Europe, Palestine, Egypt, Asia and the United States with a friend, whose legacy paid for the trip.

After returning to New Zealand Orange was ordained a priest in 1923 and took the position of acting vicar of Fendalton in 1923–24. He went to his first parish, as vicar of Waikari, in 1924. His opposition to parish dances saw him regarded as something of a fundamentalist. While at Waikari, Orange laid the theological basis of his preaching. He spent considerable time building his library and in the reading and study of Scripture, particularly the book of Genesis. He set out to help those whose faith was being undermined by critical and scientific doubts about the accuracy of the biblical record. Orange was later to say that in Genesis lay 'the seed bed of all biblical themes'.

In 1930 Orange became vicar of Sumner. His preaching both in the Sunday services and in the mid-week Bible studies placed enormous emphasis on exposition of the Scriptures and drew a wide range of people to All Saints' Church; the sisters from the Anglican Community of the Sacred Name, on summer retreat, sat with Open Brethren. Orange's involvement with the Sumner School for Deaf Children was an important part of his ministry, and he led special services for the students from material he had developed. It was, however, the Sunday afternoon young men's Bible class that became a focal point of his ministry. Drawn by Orange's lucid teaching, many young men cycled from as far away as Upper Riccarton. Popularly known as the 'Orange Pips', they became involved in the Evangelical Union at Canterbury College and drew others into the group. As a result of Orange's ministry, many became ministers, missionaries or prominent laymen.

Orange was also involved with the establishment of the evangelical movement in universities and secondary schools through his involvement with the Crusader Movement of New Zealand, Scripture Union and the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions. He spoke at conferences, house parties and Bible study meetings organised by a variety of interdenominational groups, so that his influence went far wider than the Anglican church.

After leaving Sumner in 1946 he was appointed the first warden of Tyndale House, an evangelical residential conference centre. Orange apparently disagreed with the centre's founder, a Brethren businessman, L. B. Miller, over its purpose and philosophy and left in 1947. He then became acting precentor and (in 1949) precentor of Christchurch cathedral. In 1951 he was made an honorary canon of the cathedral, and from 1954 to 1960 was chaplain of the Cathedral Grammar School. Retiring in 1963, he was appointed the first warden of Latimer House, an evangelical library and study centre near the new University of Canterbury buildings at Ilam.

'Pekoe' Orange was a small man with a distinctive and prominent nose. He never married, and for much of his life experienced bouts of intense loneliness and, from his 20s, periods of depression. Yet he possessed a contagious sense of humour and a gift for storytelling. He was sought after as a speaker, teacher, and adviser. In his exposition of Scripture he was especially noted for his typological teaching, seeing Christ foreshadowed in the pages of the Old Testament. Although a traditional Anglican all his life, he was in many ways a loner in the Christchurch Anglican diocese, particularly in the early years of his ministry when an Anglican evangelical witness was not at all strong; he spoke only once at the diocesan synod, and never attended the clerical society. Orange never wished to appear in print or have his words recorded, but the many handwritten manuscripts of his sermons are still housed with the bulk of his library of some 15,000 volumes at Latimer House in Christchurch. He died in Christchurch on 28 June 1966. He had been one of the most influential Anglican evangelical leaders in New Zealand.