Maurice and I came to church for the first time on the same Sunday. I came because the church was checking me out as a potential pastor for its community. Maurice later admitted that he attended “as a bit of insurance” – he was facing bypass surgery the following week. We would both return a few weeks later to begin a longer journey together, I newly installed as pastor, and Maurice with some newly installed arteries. It didn’t take Maurice long to make his way deep into my own heart, as he joined in worship week by week and became an integral part of our faith community.
Maurice epitomised the words of Jesus about “having life in all its fullness.” Having lived his life outside of the church for many years, he was comfortable whenever we journeyed into the community. Whenever we held international dinners, or ran a stall at the local community festival, Maurice was there, larger than life. He stood in the pouring rain when we sold sausages for Sudan on one of the wettest days Melbourne experienced through the long drought, and loved playing cards as part of our drop-in program, or enjoying the movies shared together with local residents on a Monday evening. He would walk the streets delivering pamphlets in letter boxes, and relished sharing the stories of his encounters. Maurice told all he met about the joy he found as part of our community.
Maurice lived alone for much of his life. He left his family in Cornwall in the early 1950s and lived alone in the North Melbourne area until he moved into a small housing community not long after his release from hospital. The church gave him a sense of family that he had not known. We celebrated his birthdays, he joined us around the Christmas table, at New Year’s Eve gatherings, and walked the Stations of the Cross at Easter. Maurice watched our own children grow, and saw others born. He became a figure of encouragement to these children, welcoming their (sometimes noisy!) presence in worship, celebrating and laughing with them. He would lead us in unconventional prayers, and occasionally shared reflections from the scriptures. He carried and caught others up in an eternal hope. Even in the darkest moments, Maurice would inject a note of humour and hope. For him the glass was never half full or half empty – it was always filled with possibilities. He invested his life in people, seeking to nurture others to their full potential.
This time last year, Maurice entered hospital for the last time, nine years after his first visit “for insurance.” At his funeral our eldest son served as a pall-bearer, symbolising the way we carry Maurice’s spirit in our hearts, and reminding us of the promise from Ezekiel which Maurice kept alive among us: “Things shall not remain as they are.”
January 13, 2012
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