A tribute to Max L. Stackhouse

MAx 2(Yesterday our church, the First Congregational Church UCC of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, had a grand celebration for the life of Max L. Stackhouse. Our pastor, Brent Damrow, presided gracefully over a beautiful mosaic of spoken and musical offerings to remember and honor Max. Family, friends and colleagues shared their thoughts. There was a half hour of Bach organ prelude music by the Reverend Tim Weisman, Yo Yo Ma played a cello introit, an expanded choir sang an anthem under the direction of Tracy Wilson, and a choral benediction conducted by Joseph Flummerfelt. God was glorified and the promises of God were proclaimed. I was privileged to make some remarks. Here they are:)

I have been blessed to know Max for most of my adult life. I met him in 1971, when I started my studies at Andover Newton Theological School, where he was my teacher. Our paths have crossed ever since.

For three years I was a seminary intern at the church where Max and Jean and their family belonged. I was Dave’s 3rd grade church-school teacher. I must confess that I had one of those “Come to Jesus” moments when I realized that Professor Max Stackhouse’s child was in my class!

Eventually both Max and I ended up here in the Berkshires. Max was a frequent lecturer and guest preacher at the church I served in Pittsfield. After I retired we became fellow church members here in Stockbridge. Stockbridge was theological “holy ground” for Max, as two of his heroes, Jonathan Edwards and Reinhold Niebuhr, had lived here.

Max was one of those life-shaping teachers who made you smarter than you thought you were. He demanded that his students think carefully and communicate clearly. If you made an assertion he would push and prod to know “why?” Max always wanted to know both where ideas came from and where they took you.

Because he firmly believed that ideas shape societies, especially the big ideas, such as how we think and talk about God and the church. In his class one day a student asked, “Isn’t the most important thing for a minister to model a faithful Christian life?” Max answered, “My grandmother is a good Christian, but she’s not a good theologian. If you are to be a leader in the church you must learn to think theologically.”

Max never stopped being my teacher, whether it was reading Dante and Goethe with him in a clergy study group at his home, or studying the contrast between Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia with the Study Group he founded here in this church.

Max was not only my teacher, but was also a great mentor of mine. He always encouraged me to read more, write more, and publish more. Whenever I gave a talk or shared a paper he would say, “Can you write that up for publication?”

On a final personal note, some of you know that my daughter is a minister. Max feigned disappointment when she chose Yale Divinity School over Harvard, Max’s alma mater, and Princeton, where he taught. He quipped, “Disapproval of Yale is the only thing Harvard and Princeton agree on.”

Forty years ago last September he was at my ordination and laid hands on me. Three years ago in June he made the effort to be at my daughter’s ordination. I have a great picture someone took from the balcony of the laying on of hands (see picture below). There is Max, frail with Parkinson’s disease, resplendent in his crimson Harvard gown, reaching out to pray over her, doing what he always did, showing up, and encouraging yet another generation of leaders for the church of Jesus Christ.

Many of his students could share similar stories of his importance in their lives. I share mine today on behalf of them all.

Max was my teacher, my mentor, and my friend. I thank God for him.


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