‘Genuine people’s pastor’: Wollongong celebrant John Matthews dies, aged 86

In Tribute: Salvation Army pastor and celebrant John Matthews has been remembered as a kind and caring man. Picture: Supplied
In Tribute: Salvation Army pastor and celebrant John Matthews has been remembered as a kind and caring man. Picture: Supplied

Salvation Army stalwart John Matthews spent the best part of his life serving others, regardless of their faith.

As a Salvos’ pastor and welfare officer for more than two decades – and then a celebrant who conducted more than 2000 funerals, marriages and baptisms – he touched many people’s lives.

‘’When my own father died I had John take his funeral – he was a such a deeply caring person who always put others first.''

The Wollongong man, who died on Monday night aged 86 after a long illness, will be remembered on Friday at a service to be undertaken by his youngest son Peter.

‘’My dad and mum both served as Salvation Army ministers for 23 years and growing up we moved around a lot,’’ Peter Matthews said.

‘’I remember one of the country towns we were in, the town drunk would regularly come knocking on our door wanting to have a fight. Dad always knew what to say to him to calm him down.

‘’He was just a real people’s man, he gave himself to everybody. No matter who was in need, if they called for help – he’d be there.’’

Born in Bowral, Mr Matthews’ parents –  also heavily involved in the Salvation Army – moved to Corrimal when he was a toddler.

He met his future wife Bernice at age five and proposed soon after.

‘’Mum told him to come back and ask her when he was 15 – and that he did,’’ Peter Matthews said. ‘’They later married, had four children, and always did everything together – they were inseparable.’’

Salvation Army colleague Bill Simpson said in his days as a full-time pastor, Mr Matthews would ride his bicycle for kilometres to help the ‘’hungry and homeless’’.

‘’Although a Salvation Army pastor, much of John’s work was among people who had little, if any, church involvement. He was a genuine people’s pastor, in that sense,’’ he said.

Mr Matthews became a celebrant in the mid-1980s, when the now popular role was in its infancy.

‘’I recall that when I was asked to assist with my first funeral some years ago, I went straight to John for advice,’’ Mr Simpson said.

‘’The first thing he said to me was that one of the greatest privileges I would have in life was to be invited into the home of a grieving family, to share their sorrow and help them to respectfully remember the life of their loved one.’’

Warwick Hansen, of Hansen & Cole Funerals, also paid tribute to Mr Matthews and his genuine care for families in their grief.

‘’When my own father died I had John take his funeral – he was a such a deeply caring person who always put others first,’’ he said. ‘’He was devout in his faith; he never wavered from that.’’

Mr Matthews is survived by wife Bernice, and children Daeve, Stephen, Denise Jenkins and Peter.

His funeral service will be held on Friday at 1.30pm at Parsons Funerals, Dapto.

Tributes and memories of John

Words can't convey how sad this new is. You were one of God's treasures Uncle John. A truly beautiful person. Rest In Peace. Kathy Olafson, Dapto

God has a very special place for you John. He told to look at him and only him at my husbands funeral 21years ago. That was all I remember of that day. God bless you John you have touched so many people. Norma Tubman, Figtree

John was a wonderful godly man who showed me who Jesus was through his life. Thank you. Mark Campbell, Balmain

I remember John with a great fondness. an old fashioned gentleman with a genuine caring for others. our community has lost a good man. my heartfelt condolences to his family. Dael Page, Wollongong

I will miss this good man x Hilary, Horsley

Have so much admiration for our dear friend John . He was an inspiration to Sue and I who cared deeply for us and our family. Jeff and Sue Winterburn, Cardiff Wales UK

Sincere thoughts go to all the family Carol, Shell Cove

John was a faithful servant of God. A man of integrity, wisdom and great strength of character. May God continue to uphold his family with peace and comfort during these times. John Sandercock, Wollongong

It has been an absolute pleasure to know & care for you John in the last few years of your life. I shall miss you greatly! Lisa, Horsley

Johnny Matthews will be dearly missed. He was such a beautiful, kind, intelligent man with an amazing heart; always ready and willing to spend some time with you and give you his special smile, time and attention. I have only positive memories of John and will miss seeing his wonderful smile and feeling his warm kindness. He was a great example to me of how to treat others. Anastasia, Bubb Wollongong

He went above and beyond what you would normally expect. I remember back to when our house in Berkeley burned down, it was John that opened the Wollongong store on a Sunday to provided us with the basics to start over again,will never forget his kindness and compassion. Wayne Duncan, Albion Park Rail

John was a great man and friend of my parents, He will be missed as an incredible man of the community. Rip John 🙏🏻 Danielle Wilson, Corrimal

RIP Uncle John Craig Winterburn, Engadine

Uncle John was always a loving patient man who offered wisdom, advice acceded friendship to anyone in need. Drew Scott, Melbourne

A true gentleman , no more suffering Louise, Dapto