Women. Power. Peace.

Walter Baldwin: Presente!

walter baldwin

Walter Baldwin and Bobbie Wrenn Banks at Stand for Peace

Georgia WAND celebrates the life of Walter Baldwin! Walter's incredible work as a reverend, advocate and activist for peace and justice inspires us to continue in his legacy.

When Walter returned to the United States, after spending 33 years as a reverend in Japan, he diligently stood for peace and worked alongside Georgia WAND, urging people of faith to take positions opposing wars and calling for a ban on nuclear weapons.

“I was always moved when Walter spoke at our Hiroshima/Nagasaki remembrance events. He was very soft spoken, but his words were powerful and prophetic,” Georgia WAND Program Director, Amanda Hill-Attkisson says. “He taught peace from his core being and emphasized the importance of staying involved in the movement. He inspired me to continue in peace work.  We send many prayers to Walter’s family.”

Read more about Walter below and join us in celebrating his life! A memorial service will be held at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 13 at North Decatur Presbyterian Church.

Walter Baldwin 1920-2013

Walter Paul Baldwin, 93, was born in Clinton, South Carolina in 1920, and died on September 25 in Atlanta. Growing up during the Great Depression, he moved with his family of seven from one small town to another as his father sought work in textile mill offices. Pastors of churches the family passed through sent Walter to youth conferences and camps. Encountering the Fellowship of Reconciliation at camp embedded the seeds of his lifelong pacifism.

After graduating from the University of South Carolina, Walter entered Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He served as class president and graduated as a Bachelor of Divinity. During the summer of 1943, while working at a church in Asheville, North Carolina, he was smitten by Clare Bedinger and married her on January 3, 1945.

Struggling since the Pearl Harbor attack over the choice between conscientious objector and chaplain, Walter finally decided that he belonged with the people who were fighting. Meeting the end of the war en route to Japan, he was assigned to a seven-month stint in Okinawa. A Christian man took him to meet war sufferers living in shacks. The absence of hatred in this survivor of one of the war's bloodiest battles came to represent for Walter a "call to Japan to proclaim the good news of reconciliation."

After discharge, Walter enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary and earned his Master of Theology degree in 1947. Until 1949, he was pastor of a Presbyterian church in Brevard, North Carolina. Two daughters were born. In 1949, they moved to Berkeley, California to study Japanese.

The family sailed to Japan in 1950 and settled in Nagoya. Walter preached at mass meetings in town halls, factories, and schools. In time, he felt drawn to work with the Kyodan (United Church of Christ), a body that united Protestant denominations. This was a controversial move for an employee of the Southern Presbyterian Mission. Over the next 33 years, Walter preached and started churches in Narumi, Toyota, and Kozoji. These churches originated with a tiny core of believers who helped Walter hold Bible classes and knock on doors. The family grew to include two sons and a third daughter.

During the global wave of student unrest in the 1970s, Japanese student groups protested their country's support for the Vietnam War. Walter was attending a board meeting of Nagoya Gakuin University when students took the members hostage overnight, then released them unharmed. He co-pastored a Kyodan Church in Toyota with a young minister who pushed the congregation to demand a Kyodan apology for its complicity with Japan's colonial exploits, and to oppose Japan's role in the Indochina war. A long conflict between the pastor and the elders over these issues tested Walter's language and mediating skills.Walter translated the memoirs of Kyodan Moderator Suzuki, who pushed an official apology through to adoption over fierce opposition.

In 1983, Walter and Clare retired to help their daughter who struggled with mental illness in Atlanta. Walter took interim pastorates in Summerville, Calhoun, and Canton. He and Clare helped found the Family Initiative Residences group, which operated two homes for the mentally ill.

Walter lobbied the Georgia legislature to strengthen gun control laws. He joined countless marches and vigils and petitioned the Atlanta Presbytery to take positions opposing wars and calling for a ban on nuclear weapons. In the mid-80's he joined a sit-in in the office of Representative Swindall to protest funding for the Nicaraguan Contras and spent the night in jail. Walter was among members of  Concerned Black Clergy who protested funding cuts to Grady Hospital at a meeting of the Dekalb County Commission. They sang We Shall Overcome until they were arrested and placed behind bars overnight.

As a member of the Peace and Justice Committee of North Decatur Presbyterian Church, he worked for education and advocacy to transform structural impediments to peace, justice, and respect for human rights. His most passionate goal was ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural, and Social Human Rights. Refusing to be thwarted by the advanced stages of Parkinson's disease, Walter made a statement at the Carter Presidential Center on January 18, 2013 in support of the Covenant.

Walter is survived by his wife Clare; Julie Baldwin (Jim Montgomery); Elizabeth Baldwin (Steve Leeper), their sons Dean Leeper (Christina Repoley) and Yoshio Leeper (Kerry Clark); Paul Baldwin (Linda), their daughter Amanda and son Andrew; Mark Baldwin (Wendy), their son Alex and daughter Aja; Grace Baldwin; Walter's sister Kathryn in Columbia. S.C. and a host of his sisters' progeny.

In lieu of flowers, the family request donations to Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, ?1065 Ralph Abernathy Blvd., SW, Atlanta, GA 30310; Georgia WAND Education Fund, 250 Georgia Ave. SE, Suite 202, Atlanta, GA 30312; North Decatur Presbyterian Church, 611 Medlock Road, Decatur, GA 30033. A memorial service will be held at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 13 at North Decatur Presbyterian Church.

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