THOMAS, Ala. — J.W. Archie stepped into the pulpit and
did his usual duties as associate pastor for Mt. Hebron Missionary Baptist
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
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.
“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
“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
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Garrison writes for The Birmingham
News in Birmingham, Ala.)