Remembering Ira Gallaway

By James V. Heidinger II

Dr. Ira L. Gallaway, one of United Methodism’s most influential evangelical leaders over the past four decades, died March 16, 2015, at the age of 91. A memorial service celebrating his life was held Sunday, March 22 in Estes Chapel on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary (ATS) in Wilmore, Kentucky. The setting was especially appropriate as Ira had served on the ATS board of trustees for more than 40 years, with several of those years as board chairman. Dr. Timothy Tennent, current ATS president, led the service, and Dr. Maxie Dunnam, a former president of the seminary, gave the memorial message for his long-time friend and colleague in ministry. Dr. Steve Martyn, a professor at the seminary and long-time friend of the Gallaway family, also participated in the service, as did I.

It would be difficult to overstate the impact Ira had on The United Methodist Church. He answered the call to ministry in 1956 and went to Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. After serving at Highland Park (Dallas), Hutchins, Kirkwood (Irving), and Walnut Hill (Dallas) churches, he became district superintendent of the Fort Worth East district. In 1971, he went to Nashville, Tennessee, to serve as General Secretary of the United Methodist Board of Evangelism. While there, he was influential in bringing future leaders to Nashville, including Maxie Dunnam to the Upper Room and Joe Hale, Eddie Fox, and George Morris to the Board of Evangelism.

In late 1972, Ira began a 17-year appointment as senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Peoria, Illinois, one of the largest UM churches in the North Central Jurisdiction.  Biblical preaching and regular Bible study were at the heart of his ministry there. Ira hosted the Upper Room’s first Cursillo spiritual retreat at Peoria First, which would soon become the very successful Walk to Emmaus program. A few years later, Ira joined laity from Peoria First to go to Hong Kong, to lead a Walk to Emmaus, which has grown and moved on into mainland China. One of those Peoria lay persons, Mrs. Joan Krupa, recently completed a three-year term as the first female chairperson of the Asbury Seminary board of trustees.

Ira, helped always by his lovely and gifted wife Sally, was a major leader in the cause of Scriptural Christianity and renewal within the denomination. He was a charter board member of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, founded in 1981 by Dr. Ed Robb and others. Then, he and the late L.D. Thomas were key leaders in the founding of the Mission Society for United Methodists in 1984. Ira had shared with me his sense of God’s providence at work as he contacted his friend H.T. Maclin regarding who might give leadership to a new mission-sending agency. To Ira’s surprise, H.T. had just resigned from his jurisdictional staff position with the General Board of Global Ministries, and he said, “Ira, how about me?” And so it was. Ira served for many years on the Mission Society board, and chaired it for several years.

Ira also played a key role in enlisting six prominent United Methodist leaders to serve on an invitation committee to invite other pastors from the denomination’s largest churches to come to Houston as an expression of concern about the church’s drift from its traditional doctrine. Some 48 leading pastors from 42 churches in 18 states gathered in Houston and signed what became known as “The Houston Declaration.”

Ira was also on the Coordinating Committee for the gathering of United Methodists in January, 1992, hosted by Maxie Dunnam, then senior minister at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis. That conference resulted in “The Memphis Declaration,” a statement affirming the church’s traditional stance on human sexuality and calling the church to a new emphasis on mission and world-wide evangelism. More than 200,000 United Methodists signed the Declaration.

When the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church was launched in April of 1994, Ira helped the new movement on a part-time staff basis as it established its headquarters in Indianapolis.

Ira was much involved in helping the Methodist Church in Costa Rica, traveling there often to speak and teach. And in retirement, he and Sally were involved with the Four Corners Ministry with the Navajo Indians.

All of these ministries speaks much about Ira’s heart and his leadership in renewal efforts within the denomination. Ira was unquestionably a natural leader. He was fearless, and courageous, and a man of deep conviction, and he lived by those convictions. God used Ira to touch countless lives across the years. This was evidenced by the number of families from First Church Peoria who came all the way to Wilmore, Kentucky for his service.

In the final years of his life, Ira lived at the Wesley Village Retirement Community in Wilmore. While there, he continued to serve as a consultant and emeritus member of Asbury’s Board. He was preceded in death by his wife, Sally, his two sons, Jerry and Timothy, and two grandsons, John and Zachary. He is survived by a daughter, Cynthia, and son, Craig (wife Deb), thirteen grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. The theme for his service of celebration was the theme to be inscribed on his grave stone in Glen Cove Cemetery near Coleman, Texas. It is simply: “Thank You, Lord!”

For this good friend, colleague, and bold leader within the United Methodist Church, we also say a heartfelt “Thank You, Lord!”

James V. Heidinger II, editor emeritus of Good News.


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