Pastors' Memoirs

Henry Maddox Matthews, 1931-1995

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Henry and his brother, John Rosser, grew up during the 1930s and '40s in the rural Southside community of LaCrosse, Virginia. In those days, life in such places centered in church and family, and they became deeply interwoven with both as they grew. Their parents were of modest means, but they wanted their sons to "amount to something." They taught them strong Christian values and beliefs, and a healthy work ethic. John became a college professor, and Henry developed into one of the most influential members of the Virginia conference in recent memory.

Henry's call to the ministry dawned early in life. He could not remember ever really wanting to be anything else than a Methodist preacher as he grew up, and he early devoted himself completely to Christ and his church. Born February 6,1931, he was educated in Mecklenburg County schools, and later completed Ferrum (Junior) College, AA., in 1952, and Randolph-Macon College, BA., in 1955. He was elected later to the boards of trustees of both these schools. His seminary training was taken at Emory University, Candler School of Theology, M.Div. 1959, with further graduate study at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, 1968-71. His pastoral ministry began on the Greensville Charge, Petersburg District, and moved through a succession of town stations and challenging appointments. Henry happily went to each assignment believing it to be a "good appointment" and one within the will of God. He was a hard, steady worker and left each church better than he found it. Always, he was equally at home in small country pulpits or in large urban sanctuary chancels. His preaching was direct, simple without being shallow, scriptural and relevant. There were no airs or pretensions. Henry clearly had the brains and education to be academic in the pulpit, but he chose to preach for the people and not for other preachers, as did his Master. In his pastoral work he was a tireless visitor of the sick, the shut-in, the distressed, and those who were without Christ and the church. His singing ministry was well-known; his rich baritone was often heard in churches, especially in his younger years, and in song leading at youth assemblies and elsewhere.

In the superintendency, as well as in the parish, Henry constantly challenged others and himself to higher levels of service. He was always working as hard or harder than any for whom he had leadership responsibility.

As a pastor and district superintendent and connectional minister, Henry demonstrated his real love for people. His ready smile and quick humor made people want to speak to him and shake his hand. He had the simple gift of making each person feel his friendship and attention. When there were occasional confrontations and differences, he bridged them without impatience, sticking to the issues and remaining a friend to those with whom he disagreed.

In addition to pastoral work, Henry was active at the jurisdictional and general levels, elected many times to those conferences and well-known as a participant; and he engaged productively in civic and community affairs as well, and in fellowship clubs and lodges. Along the way he became an accomplished fund raiser and stewardship consultant, working both for the conference and many local churches. And, while Henry had no dreams of episcopacy for himself, he was convinced that the church would not rise higher than the spiritual level of its bishops; so, he worked openly and diligently for the election of the best qualified persons in the conference and jurisdiction. There are today several excellent chief pastors in leadership roles among us who were encouraged and aided by Henry Matthews.

Alice "Betty" Warner Matthews, Henry's gracious wife, has made the ministry journey with him. A highly successful professional social worker, she traveled the circuits and shared the joys and sorrows of Christian service through the years. Betty's love and comradeship supported Henry's own upbeat and positive approach to life. Together, they believed in what could be done; not in what couldn't. They reared two outstanding children, Hank and Melodie, who have been leaders in United Methodist youth work and ministry in their own right and on their own volition.

It was said by Dr. Ladell Payne, as he awarded Randolph-Macon’s Doctor of Divinity degree several years ago, that Henry Matthews was, "a man touched by God." So he was. He was what he was called to be: nothing more nor less than a faithful Methodist preacher.

Henry died suddenly on June 5, 1995, after a lifelong struggle with diabetes. A service of celebration was held at Reveille Church, Richmond, on June 9, conducted by Bishop Thomas B. Stockton, Bishop R. Kern Eutsler, Bishop H. Hasbrouck Hughes Jr., and Bishop Carl J. Sanders. Burial was in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Richmond, with the Rev. Joseph Carson Jr. officiating and a brief tribute by the undersigned on behalf of the family.

Henry and I were cousins. We shared the same family circle; we received the same devout Wesleyan heritage; we knew each other from childhood. We have preached in each other's pulpits, conducted revivals together, buried our loved ones together, promoted the causes of Christ and the church over the same time span. And it's true for the church and for Henry's own special dear ones, and for our larger family circle: we were far richer when he was with us, and we are far poorer without him here. We rejoice in Henry's life and we thank Gad for his ministry.

-William K. Thomas



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Background photos courtesy of VDOT.

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