(Final column for Gannett, Nov. 14, 2021. Newspaperin’ is a tough business but Gannett was so good to me and so was everyone who ever took the time to read my stuff. This whole thing was very, VERY unrehearsed. Thank you. Merry Christmas! Speaking of … if you need a last-minute gift, here is a winner winner chicken dinner…)
Mt. Olivet Presbyterian Church in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is one of my favorite churches. Hardly matters that I’ve never been there. Or that every time I spell Presbyterian, I have to look it up.
(Don’t judge me: I’m from South Carolina.)
Mt. Olivet is a country church in the middle of town, just off Richmond Avenue in Staunton, Va. Wide green lawn. L-shaped brick, white eves, white steeples, black shingles. Traditional outside and in, where a piano accompanies the dozen or so volunteer choir members to lead the congregation — 290 would be filled-to-the-brim — in our inspired old standard hymns.
Time has changed some things. There’s a strip mall just down the road with AT&T and Sprint and GameStop and Firehouse Subs stores. Lowe’s and Wal-Mart aren’t far away. And right across the street is a Kentucky Fried Chicken, hard by the church’s cemetery, a metaphorical reminder that The Sweet By-and-By will always smell like dinnertime on any Southern Sunday.
Anyway, that’s Mt. Olivet on the outside. Mt. Olivet inside is the same, same as when the Statler Brothers, the most awarded quartet in country music history, started going to their hometown church as babies more than 70 years ago. And that’s why it’s a personal favorite. This is where their faith took root. This was their harbor.
In retirement from the music business, it is their port.
Lead singer Don Reid teaches Sunday school there, at the same church were his mom and Mrs. Brown and some others, including his faith and Bible mentor, Jack Young, taught him. Alto/baritone harmonizer extraordinaire Phil Balsley is the Financial Secretary, taking care of the numbers just as he did for the Statlers on all those award-winning years on the road. And until he passed away in the spring of 2020, Harold Reid, the group’s founder and big brother to Don, didn’t miss a Sunday.
So … not to brag, but I’m the unofficial North Louisiana press agent for the Statlers. That their final concert was 20 years ago is an inconsequential fact quickly brushed aside in this bureau when there is Statler-related info you need to know. Like, for instance, that Don Reid’s newest book, “Life Lessons,” is out, available, and looking to find a place in your heart, hands, and library.
Turns out that “Life Lessons” is a child of pandemic necessity. Reid has taught a Sunday school class at Mt. Olivet for more than 30 years.
“It’s just a square room in the bottom of the church,” he said by phone one recent autumn morning, only an hour or so before his weekly Wednesday lunch at Staunton’s Depot Grill with sons Langdon and Debo. (“I’m a Cobb salad guy.”)
His “Friendship Class” members sit in a square around the wall so they face each other and can more easily discuss the day’s lesson. Old School.
Or, Old Sunday school.
But in March 2020 when congregations were advised not to gather and that routine was put on hold, Reid began writing an email lesson to send on Saturday nights to each member. Those lessons, with some revisions, make up “Life Lessons,” short essays from personal experience, some of them more along the lines of commentary, all of them heartfelt and easily understood, grounded in scripture.
I was going to read one a day for 90 days but — couldn’t pace myself. Ended up zipping through it, highlighting along the way.
“I just hope people enjoy the book,” he said. “It’s got a lot of me in it, a lot of personal touches to it. It got me through the pandemic, I know that. Great therapy for me in writing it and having a goal to meet.
“I hope everyone got through all this pandemic craziness,” he said, adding that his wish was that “Life Lessons” would help in that cause, that the shared stories would “fulfill, explain, enlighten — even calm, heal, and entertain.”
I’ve read it. Every word. And they do.
The 6 x 9, 308-page book is $25 and can be purchased at donreid.net or wherever you get your books. (One of y’all remember to alert Santa, please.)
In it you’ll read about how to find humor in the Bible (“The Lord never meant for religion to wear a long face,” the great Hovie Lister of the Statesmen Quartet always said), you’ll be reminded that your life is “a letter from Christ,” and you’ll read tributes to his mom and dad.
Best of all, he gives you homework, and questions you can share with your family. Like, list a few things your dad taught you. Or, write down the three best friends you’ve had in your life or in this moment, and contact each one to tell them what they mean to you. Or, play this New Year’s Eve game with your family and ask them what are three words that best describe the past year for you, or name one thing you want to do next year that you didn’t get to do this year.
“My sincere wish,” Reid writes, “is that you find something in each of these chapters that makes you pause, think, and want to read the next one.
“May every lesson in our lives be a blessing.”
Contact Teddy at email@example.com