The Rev Max O’Connor (pictured) died on 8 April 2014. Born in 1923, he spent his life as a minister in rural and urban congregations across Victoria. Max recognised that understanding and enlightenment could come from people from all walks of life and he had a particular compassion for the poor and those whom life had dealt harsh blows.
He was a gentle and compassionate minister though he often appeared gruff. Having grown up during the Great Depression, he was much affected by the struggles of his own family as well as the people around him—children at school without socks, scant clothing and no lunch. In later life he and his wife Kathleen would bring children from broken homes or orphanages to spend time with the family, though they too had their struggles.
He was in the army in Darwin during World War II and able to access the education services of the army. Two chaplains learned he felt a call to the Methodist ministry and befriended him. He worked hard for seven years, to equip himself educationally for this.
Theological training began while he was a home missionary at Maffra, then study at Otira, which was then a lay training institute. Finally he studied for four years at Queen’s College.
Academic education was important to him, and he gained a BA then an M.Ed. He finally achieved a Doctorate in Philosophy, at the age of 72, with a thesis on Methodism on the Victorian Goldfields; a very pleasing achievement to him – a wharf labourer’s son.
The study at home was his hub – it was expansive; the desk was always littered with books, prayer books, papers and handwritten notes. History was very important to Max. He was central in founding the archives both of the Methodist and then the Uniting Church, and in the establishment of the Synod Historical Society. He was responsible for the rescue and preservation of many important documents valuable to the historical memory of the church.
Max married Kathleen Chancellor in 1955 while stationed in the Newstead circuit. They went to Sale where their six children (including two sets of twins) were born. At one stage their household boasted five children under the age of four. Kathleen’s training as an infant welfare sister must have been a great asset.
Max was an inveterate traveller, especially within Australia, and occasionally his ‘adventures’ would not be so well prepared! Libby shared a story of his decision to take the family to Mt Donna Buang, they ended up in the snow in shorts and sandshoes; no rug, and no money to buy anything more than a cup of cocoa!
Many colleagues remember Max as a passionate Minister of the Word “of the old school.” But he was an exemplar of the traditional disciplines of prayer, worship, study of the church’s faith and doctrine, intelligent and compassionate engagement with society, knowing our history and serving the people entrusted to his pastoral care. He mourned the declining practice of these things in the contemporary church.
At Max’s funeral, Rev. Warren Clarnette reflected that Max found himself in a Church “being pushed to the edges of society”; “every need catered for without the help of Christian faith and practice”. “He saw the link between church and parishioner, between Christian doctrine and secular practice hang by a thread.” Warren emphasised the real point of all Max’s sermons, prayers, pastoral care, and building up of congregations in faith. He was proclaiming Christ faithfully. “Max believed that the Holy City is every person’s destiny. He expected to reach that destination. He looked forward to it.”
The service of thanksgiving for Max was held at Auburn Uniting Church on the 15th April 2014. At Max’s wish, it was a full Eucharist, conducted by Rev Rodney Horsfield, preacher was the Rev Warren Clarnette.
The eulogy was delivered by Max’s daughter, Libby O’Connor. This obituary is based on their reflection.