The Harry Webster Endowments
By Bob Dickson
When California resident Harry Webster says he was born into the Alliance, he’s laying claim to a longer time span of service than most will ever see.
Harry was born in 1908.
“If I was born much sooner I would have known Dr. Simpson,” he jokes.
Harry never met Alliance founder A.B. Simpson, but based on the way he has lived his life, you have to believe the men would have been friends.
The same heart that moved Dr. Simpson to follow the Lord into ministry beats in Harry’s chest.
The desire to serve and sacrifice that so characterized Simpson also characterizes Webster.
And just as God blessed Simpson with a great legacy of ministry, He has also blessed Webster. Through him, He has blessed many.
Pastor. Church planter. Military chaplain. Husband and Father.
From the battlefields of the South Pacific to the mission fields of Viet Nam. From the war in Korea and the invasion at Inchon to army bases in places such as Germany, Fukuoka, Japan and Fort Hood, Texas.
Harry Webster has traveled a long and ever-twisting path in His pursuit of God’s will. Along the way, he has planted innumerable seeds. He has changed lives.
Scholarships at Nyack College, the Alliance Theological Seminary, and to other Christian colleges exist because of his faithfulness.
But that’s only a part of his story…
When Webster graduated high school in California in 1926, going to college at Nyack was not an option.
“Nyack was half a world away,” he says. “I didn’t even have the money to travel there.”
Instead, Webster pursued his college education at what is now known as the University of Pacific, where he received a scholarship to cover his first two years tuition.
“I felt the Lord calling me to Christian service,” says Webster, whose parents were also members of the Alliance. “I didn’t know if I would be a pastor. I just knew I wanted to serve God.”
“I remember thinking, ‘What do I do now?’” Webster says. “I was halfway educated, but I needed seminary training.”
After graduation Webster wanted to continue his studies at seminary. His plan was taking shape.
“But then I met a girl,” he says.
That girl, Katherine Mosley, became his wife. The two married just before Harry began seminary work in 1930.
In 1932, Harry completed his seminary training and was prepared for the life of a pastor. But it wasn’t as simple as all that.
“I thought the world would open up and say, ‘We’re ready for you,’” he says. “But there were no church vacancies in the South Pacific District of the Alliance. I ended up working for my father, who was running a Laundry in Stockton, California.”
Eventually, Harry decided that if there were no vacancies, he would create one himself. So he rented an abandoned Episcopal church for $10 a month and started his first church — the Alliance Church of Livermore, California.
The church grew to 50 members that first year and thrived in the community well into the 1990’s.
Harry and Katherine stayed in Livermore for four years before God called them to the Alliance Church in Long Beach, Calif. Harry served as pastor there for seven years and would have served longer if not for the outbreak of World War II.
“The army was calling for chaplains,” he explains. “The young men in my church were going to fight and I thought, why shouldn’t I?”
So Harry, at the tender age of 35, enlisted.
Within the year, he was serving as a chaplain in the 169th Regiment of the 43rd Division, which was stationed in the South Pacific.
“My first duty was on Guadalcanal,” Harry says. “I never heard a shot.”
That all changed a few months later, when Harry and the 169th found themselves under heavy Japanese fire in New Guinea. Of his first taste of combat, Harry wrote the following in an excerpt from a letter in 1944:
When I go to bed at night even here in this quiet base, I can imagine I hear the spiteful “Spat!” of a sniper’s rifle, and the immediate “Rat-a-tat-a-tat” of our automatic rifles, answering with finality. From the tree-tops, behind fallen logs, from dug-out caves and thatched-roof lean-to’s they shot at our leading patrols. The courage and bravery of these men who lead the advance through the jungle can never be adequately praised.
There were casualties among the division, and it was Harry’s grim duty to search pockets and register identification tags. One of the men was someone Harry had recently led to Christ.
In the same letter, he wrote:
The day before we launched our offensive was Sunday. I held three services for our Battalion. My Scripture for each was Ezekiel 33:1-20 … at each service I gave an invitation for public confession of Christ. At the first service a young Lieutenant took his stand and asked for baptism. At the second service four soldiers came forward … Sadly enough, the first man killed in the campaign was one of those four … I remember how he came forward with a firm step, a sober look in his eyes, and gave me a tight handclasp. I felt my own throat muscles tighten, and my eyes were misty as I managed with difficulty to control my voice enough to say, “God bless you, my boy!”
Harry was later part of the Luzon landing in the Philippines in September, 1944, an invasion that actually led to the rescue of missionaries held captive by the Japanese.
“I knew some of them personally,” Harry says.
When the war ended, Harry was offered a choice: go back to civilian life or stay on as a peacetime chaplain. He stayed in the military.
“I was reassigned to the United States, where I ministered to the soldiers coming home through San Pedro near Long Beach,” he says. After about eight months of that, I was sent to Germany.
For three years, Harry, Katherine and their four children lived in Germany. But when the Korean War broke out, it was time for Harry to go where he was needed most.
His service in Korea was short-lived, however. An attack of rheumatoid arthritis cut his time there short.
From that point, the Websters began a period that involved many moves. They served in Fort Hood, TX for a year before Harry was assigned to occupation duty in Japan in 1953.
In 1956, Harry took an assignment in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, where the family stayed for five years.
From there, it was off to Fort Mason in San Francisco for two years before Harry decided it was time for a more permanent change.
“I decided to retire from the army,” he says. “So I wrote the Alliance National Office and asked them where they would like me to serve.”
And that’s how it was that the day after he “retired,” he boarded an army plane bound for Viet Nam, where he served as pastor at International Protestant Church of Saigon for two years.
Harry didn’t “really retire” until 1972, seven years after he started Alliance Lafayette Church in Lafayette, Calif.
But “retire” doesn’t really fit when describing Harry Webster. His service to the Alliance found new avenues.
He took up stained glass artistry, for example. Today, his handcrafted windows grace Alliance churches in Napa, Fairfield, Salt Lake City, Kailua, as well as the Alliance Theological Seminary and Nyack’s Pardington Hall.
In 1988, Harry’s service to the Alliance took a new form. That’s when he founded the first of four scholarships out of the proceeds from the sale of his home in Lafayette.
“I always felt like I wanted to payback in some way,” Harry says. “I got so much help getting through college and I wanted to do the same for others.”
Harry’s first fund, the Harry Webster Scholarship, is a $100,000 endowment that has helped dozens of ATS students pursue their seminary degrees.
Harry set up another scholarship, the Jeanette Webster fund at Nyack College ($100,000).
The fund at Nyack is named after Jeanette, the dear woman he married in 1994 who shares his interest.
The two met at Town and Country Manor, an Alliance retirement community in Santa Ana, Calif., where they continue to happily entertain visitors and share with them their love for the Lord — and for the ministry He has given them both.
“Every year we get letters from the young people who appreciate the scholarships,” Harry says. “I certainly got help along the way. I always tell people who are going to college and seminary to trust the Lord to provide your needs. He will see you through.”
Certainly, He has seen Harry through.
Through him, He is seeing others through, too.
If you visit the Websters in Santa Ana, be sure to visit Town and Country’s sanctuary on your way out. The stained glass window behind the pulpit is Harry’s handiwork.
“The sun was so bright behind the pulpit that people had to squint to see the pastor,” Harry says.
Now they see an array of beautiful colors, fanning out from the center in a delicate design.
When the sun hits it just right, it looks like sunrise though a rainbow.
A new day to worship the Lord.
Another step along a blessed path for Harry.
A named endowment can be established and disbursed for a minimum of $20,000. Contact Josue Calderon, Manager of Annual Gift Programs at Josue.Calderon@nyack.edu or phone (845) 675-4428 if you are interested in establishing an endowment.