J. Stuart Innerst was born in 1894 in Dallastown, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Lebanon Valley College in 1916 and received a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Bonebrake Theological Seminary in 1919. He and his wife, Marion Reachard (whom he had married after graduating from college), became missionaries in Canton in January 1920 through the China Mission of United Brethren in Christ. They lived and worked in the small, rural town of Siulam, but their discomfort with the way the Chinese people were dominated by foreigners -- personally and also systemically through unfair treaties imposed by other governments -- led the Innersts to leave that country in protest in the Spring of 1927. Stuart Innerst did not return to China until May 1972, when he was allowed to enter the country as a guest of the Chinese Peoples Association for Friends with Foreign Countries. He was the first American missionary to be granted a visa to return, and he took full advantage of the privilege by visiting many sites over a five week period, focusing on the social changes achieved since he had lived there five decades earlier. Before that, in 1968, Innerst traveled to the Far East, including Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, to meet with Quaker groups concerning the situation in China. China was of life-long interest and concern for Innerst, and was the subject of much of his writing and lobbying over the years.
Stuart Innerst served as a chaplain at Otterbein College (Ohio) from 1927 to 1939, and then as pastor for the Fairview Church in Dayton (Ohio). In 1943, he joined the Society of Friends, which eventually led him to a pastorship at the First Friends Church in Pasadena (California), where he stayed for many years.
In addition to his pastoral work, Innerst also served as the Director of the Quaker Friends in Washington Program (1960-1961); for thirteen months he lobbied and interviewed members of Congress regarding China, disarmament and peace, and other issues. Concern for his wife's health forced an early departure from Washington, but he returned for brief periods in 1963 and in 1965. His other involvements included participation in various Friends boards and committees, such as the Executive Committee of the Friends Committee on Legislation, the La Jolla Meeting Peace Committee, and the Friend in the Orient Committee of the Pacific Yearly Meeting. He attended four conferences of the World Peace Council in Europe in the early 1960s, and helped plan the 1962 World Congress on Disarmament and Peace.
Innerst was a prolific writer of Letters to the Editor, lobbying letters to government officials, Bible study helps and devotionals, articles and leaflets. Between 1965 and 1970, he edited the Understanding China Newsletter, published by the American Friends Service Committee. From his home in 1971-1973, he produced the China Spectator Papers. He co-authored the book A New China Policy: Some Quaker Proposals (1965), and his reflections on China were published posthumously in the book China Gray, China Green.
Innerst and his wife had four children, Almena [Neff], Dick, Lucille [Nordgren], and Ivan. After wife Marion's death in October 1964, Innerst married Gladis Barber Voorhees and settled in La Jolla (California). He died in his home on August 30, 1975.