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

At 100, pastor slows down but keeps on preaching

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

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.)