“What can I give back to God for the blessings he’s poured out on me? I’ll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God! I’ll pray in the name of God; I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it together with his people. When they arrive at the gates of death, God welcomes those who love him. Oh, God, here I am, your servant, your faithful servant: set me free for your service! (Psalm 116:12-16 The Message) This last week a faithful servant was welcomed Home. A long time in the making--almost 107 years.
Roland Kelley was a remarkable man. He was quiet, hardworking (spent years up at the Sierra Way church property on the landscaping and buildings, until he could no longer be up on a ladder). Smiling, friendly. always glad to see people. Roland and his family were already at Calvary Baptist when I came here but he told me once that he had really wasn't on track with God until middle age. He asked to baptized again when he was in his 90's, because he said he hadn't really known what it was all about the first time.
I had been acquainted with the Kelleys for years; had had several of the grandchildren in Sunday School and youth group. I got to know him better through Waneta, whom he married in 1999. Both widowed, they were a delightful couple, a great reminder that it’s never too late to love. Waneta had joined the choir when she came to Calvary. I was part of the team that organized the birthday party the church gave for his 100th birthday in 2008. The idea came up of including a sing-along of his favorite hymns and praise songs over his long life. Roland and Waneta and I made up a list of about ten songs, and Frank Zummo Jr and I led the singing. One of the songs we included was an oldie that we don't hear so much any more, but one of my own favorites: "In the Garden", which begins "I come to the garden alone..." Elden Smith, our choir director, had never heard it before, but very much liked it , and it is now part of our regular playlist. He always credits Roland for introducing it to him.
Waneta, who was singing with us at the time, suggested our small group sing for Roland's 102nd birthday party. We did a couple of Roland's favorites, and several people suggested that we should "take that show on the road." We had been talking about some sort of a community ministry, and the next fall began contacting care facilities about allowing us to present programs including traditional hymns, spirituals and country gospel favorites. We've been going out almost every month since, more during December, and one of our favorite places to go was the Kelley's--sometimes in the clubhouse at their mobile home park with our usual program, and sometimes more casually at their home. Roland always appreciated our old-time music; even two weeks ago he was singing along softly with some of it. He was a great encouragement to us, and a demonstration once again how one person can trigger things that expand in directions that can surprise us.
Elden’s Tribute: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-IBur2811s&feature=youtu.be