At 100, pastor slows down but keeps on preaching
    November 18 2009 by Greg Garrison, Religion News Service

    THOMAS, Ala. — J.W. Archie stepped into the pulpit and did his usual duties as associate pastor for Mt. Hebron Missionary Baptist Church.

    He introduced the walk-in song. He led the Scripture reading and the responsive reading, prayed, took up the benevolence offering and presided at the altar call.

    Sunlight streamed through a tinted window and cast flickers of honey-colored light on Archie’s black suit jacket. He studied a piece of paper under the glow of a reading lamp over the lectern as he led the responsive reading.

    It’s not bad for someone who just turned 100 years old. When he led his prayer, he spoke from the heart, in the studied rhythms of decades of practice.

    “Thank the Lord for last night’s sleep, and thank the Lord for this morning’s rise,” he said. “Bring home wandering minds and scattering thoughts. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our savior. Amen. Thank God.”

    The dark wood-paneled walls of Mt. Hebron blend into the stained-wood pews and the brown curtain hiding the baptistery. Two singers and an organist belted out a gospel song, “You Brought Me From a Mighty Long Way.”

    Then Archie yielded the pulpit to the pastor, Thomas Smith.

    A stone’s throw from the church parking lot, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train sat on the tracks. Sometimes the trains have been known to roar by during services. “It doesn’t bother me,” Archie said.

    Nearby are the steel mills where Archie worked, for Republic Steel, for “32 years, 10 months and six days,” to the best of his recollection.

    “Anything you ask him, he’ll know off the top of his head,” said one of his sons, Tim Archie.

    During all his years in the steel mill, the elder Archie reported to work for the 3 to 11 p.m. shift to shovel coal into the ovens that fired up to melt the iron ore to make steel.

    RNS photo by Tamika Moore/The Birmingham News

    J.W. Archie still preaches from the pulpit of Mt. Hebron Missionary Baptist Church in Thomas, Ala., at the age of 100.

    “I was late one time,” Archie said, but only because he had to testify as a witness in a trial about a stolen dog, he said.

    Archie was born Nov. 10, 1909, and moved to Birmingham in 1941, the same year he joined the Mt. Hebron church. He was ordained and began preaching there in 1977. “It was my calling,” he said.

    He’s lived in the same house in the steel mill village since September 1941. “I walked to work,” he said. “It took five minutes.”

    His wife died of pneumonia in 1987.

    Archie goes to bed at 6:30 p.m. and wakes up by 7 a.m. “I get tired of sitting around and I go to bed,” he said. “I just keep on going till they call me home.”

    In the summer, he keeps a garden, growing black-eyed peas and okra.

    “I cut it, wash it and put it in the deep freeze,” he said.

    He’s got enough quarts of peas and okra frozen to last him through the winter. His health has held up well, Archie said.

    “It’s fair,” he said. “I take a cholesterol pill. I’ve been taking them for two months. That’s all I take.”

    He wears glasses in the pulpit to read from the Bible and the responsive readings. He preaches when the pastor goes on vacation. He plans to keep up his church duties as long as he can, he said.

    “Ain’t nobody in my family lived as long as I have,” Archie said. “I just thank God.”

    Unlike many centenarians, he has no longevity tips to offer.

    “Ain’t got no secrets,” he said. But he does have words of wisdom to live by.

    “Treat everybody straight and trust God for his word,” he said.

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Garrison writes for The Birmingham News in Birmingham, Ala.)

    11/18/2009 10:03:00 AM by Greg Garrison, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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