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A Man Called “Sunny”

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Surprisingly, an Episcopalian Communion service was frequently observed at A. B. Simpson’s Gospel Tabernacle in New York City. Presiding—with the permission of his bishop—was the tabernacle’s associate pastor, Dr. Henry Wilson.

At his death, it was widely agreed that, although Wilson had remained an Episcopal clergyman, “no one, except Dr. Simpson himself, is such a loss to our Alliance work.” Simpson pictured “the face of dear Henry Wilson, the face of light, of sunshine and of hope and gladness,” now looking down on him from heaven.

Although he was known as “Sunny,” Wilson was a man acquainted with grief. Twice he had seen a wife die in childbirth, leaving two little girls and a son (who would die at age seven) in the care of this self-described “sickly man, a burden to myself, a constant anxiety to friends and family, a nuisance to doctors, and a kind of walking apothecary.”

Little did this dignified curate of the Cathedral of St. George (Kingston, Ont.) realize that his curiosity, aroused by an enthusiastic Salvation Army group preaching the gospel on the street, would lead him to “pleading for pardon and peace, . . . needing both as much as the drunkard on one side and the lost woman on the other.” He rejoiced over being “saved in a very unexpected way.” His bishop’s view differed. The dean of the cathedral gave an ultimatum, and Wilson left St. George’s rather than condemn his Salvation Army friends.

Moving to a more evangelical Episcopal church in New York City, Wilson compassionately ministered among the poor and needy; however, he was still hampered by poor health. Curiosity stirred in him again, causing him to seek out Simpson, who was teaching that Jesus was bringing new life to body as well as to soul! Kneeling once more at an altar of prayer, Wilson found new health and strength.

The priest became Simpson’s “closest friend and most trusted fellow worker.” Soon almost every issue of the Alliance magazine contained something either written by or telling of Wilson’s seemingly indefatigable ministries. Several hundred missionaries were sent overseas when Wilson served as the first president of the International Missionary Alliance. Traveling thousands of miles as national field director of The Alliance, this scholarly, cultured man had the ability to put his profound message within reach of “everyman.”

Radiating vigor and cheerfulness, Wilson claimed to be “younger, fresher” than he had been at age 30. Notably, with his uninhibited laughter and sometimes mischievous manner, he had a magnetic appeal to children. Significantly, it was after a children’s meeting in Atlanta that his action-packed ministry ended. At age 67, he succumbed to double pneumonia.

A church dictionary declares the C&MA “not classifiable” because of the many theological “streams which flowed into it.” These humanly devised channels can become clogged and run dry. But the stream that flowed through Wilson, the Episcopal priest, and Simpson, the Presbyterian pastor, brought new life through their shared ministry. It is a life still promised today: “‘Whoever believes in me, . . . streams of living water will flow from within him’” (John 7:38).

Past Alliance Life Issues

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