Lodi lost a popular pastor who championed social justice issues on Saturday, when Robert W. Mattheis died of bone cancer at his home. He was 75.
Mattheis was pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church for 20 years before becoming bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1994. He retired in 2002 and later became active in politics. Mattheis was president of the Greater Lodi Area Democratic Club in 2009 and 2010.
“He was easily the best listener I’ve ever heard in my entire life,” said Janie Hickok Siess, a civil rights attorney who lives in Lodi. “He’s one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known. He’s not judgmental, but he had his opinions.”
Siess was an organist and pianist for many years at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
“He came in 1974, and I helped plan his welcoming party,” she said.
Mattheis had suffered back trouble since January, but it wasn’t known until June 15 that his back pain was the result of terminal bone cancer, Jan Mattheis, his wife of 54 years, said in the family’s backyard on Monday afternoon.
He was in considerable pain and died at 10 p.m. Saturday at his home with his family at his side. Mattheis turned down extra pain medication because he wanted to continue connecting with family, friends and former colleagues without falling asleep in the middle of a conversation, his daughter, Laurie Maggio, said.
“I am completely devastated,” Siess said. “He’s been a role model, spiritual guide, a teacher, a support system for me. I was just bowled over by his kindness.”
Siess and Mattheis family members said that he championed human rights, taking some stands that weren’t too popular in Lodi. He supported gay marriage and the ordination of gay clergy and deacons, and he pushed for male-female equality, universal health care and the opportunity for everyone to have an education regardless of race, religion or sexual identification, wife Jan said.
In 2007, Mattheis participated in a demonstration against the Iraq war at Hutchins Street and Kettleman Lane.
In a News-Sentinel interview a few years ago, Mattheis said he was considered a liberal in Lodi, but a conservative in Berkeley.
Mattheis was known as a gregarious man who always made it a point to remember people’s names and important things in their lives.
“As a kid, it was like, ‘Do you have to talk to everyone?’” Maggio said.
As an adult, Maggio said she’s learned what her father’s intent was. “Knowing people by name and giving them a sense of value was very important to him,” she said.
Even during his final days, Mattheis called every nurse and receptionist by their name, Maggio said.
Siess said she was touched when Mattheis comforted her mother when Siess’ father was dying.
“He was a very eloquent preacher of the gospel,” Siess said. “He gave sermons that not only made you want to listen to what he said, but think about it later.”
Throughout his life, Mattheis reflected his theological opinions and urged others to do the same, daughter AmyJo Mattheis Holmquist said. In a 2007 guest column in the News-Sentinel, Mattheis said that over time, he learned that men are not superior to women and that portions of the Bible justify violence and crimes against humanity that would be considered genocide or war crimes today.
But regardless of one’s political or theological beliefs, Mattheis was tolerant of others’ views, family members said.
Actually, his politics were based more on people taking care of each other, Holmquist said. He would read about topics, whether he agreed with the viewpoint or not.
Mary Sanders, former pastor of Galt’s Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church before accepting a call to a church this year in Tacoma, Wash., said that Mattheis was the bishop who ordained her.
“Until the end of my time of service in Galt, Bishop Robert W. Mattheis offered kindness, caring and gentle wisdom,” Sanders said in an email message Sunday. “His sense of humor was gentle and infectious, and his courageous model of inclusivity in the church was an inspiration to many.
“He had that special gift of taking his call seriously without seeming to take himself seriously,” Sanders said. “I learned a lot from him over the years.”
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.