Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

Honoring A Life Well Lived

This past Sunday, my family and I traveled to Cleveland, Georgia to attend a service that was part anniversary, part recognition and all celebration.  It was a service at Union Grove Congregational Holiness Church to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the first sermon preached by a beloved and legendary Georgia mountain preacher, Rev. Asa Dorsey.

Asa75th01 Now in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Asa is my father-in-law, so I am hopelessly prejudiced on this subject.  But Sunday morning I was in good company – in a church packed with folks who feel the same way I do about this man.

The first time I ever heard Asa Dorsey preach was at a revival service in Gainesville in the fall of 1975.  I had recently started dating his youngest daughter, so to be honest, I attended the service to hear Fonda sing, not to hear Asa preach (if you have ever heard my wife sing you will understand that perfectly!)  But that night I was mesmerized by Asa’s preaching and especially by his staggering ability to quote whole chapters of the Bible word for word, even pausing at the commas!

His preaching career began on Sunday, January 1, 1933 at a home Bible Study in Clarksville, Georgia.  Asa was 17 years old and had been wrestling with a call to the ministry.  The Bible Study leader announced that a brand new gospel preacher would be bringing the message that day.  Asa remembers looking around to see who he was talking about when he heard himself being introduced.  He was stunned. The first thing he did was ask them to join him in prayer.  As he knelt to pray, Asa sensed God saying to him, “The decision you make now will affect the rest of your life.” His decision made, he stood and spoke from Romans 8 on the subject of freedom in Christ.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Over the next seven-plus decades, Asa would preach at thousands of Sunday morning services and hundreds of revivals and tent meetings all over the South.  He also officiated at over 1,700 funeral services. People in the community who never darkened the door of Asa’s church, or sometimes any other church, would ask him to speak at the service for their loved ones.

My most poignant memory of Asa is not of him standing in the pulpit preaching to hundreds of people, it is of him on his knees praying for my son.  When Chris was seven weeks old he had to have neurosurgery.  Asa and Annie Kate drove to Virginia to be with us for his surgery.  That morning before we left for the hospital, we all knelt around his crib.  I cannot recall one word Asa said as he led us in prayer that morning, but never before or since have I felt the power and the presence of God as clearly.

On Sunday morning, historian and journalist Larry Fricks, author of a book on Asa’s life entitled The Greatest of These, shared some stories about the impact of Asa’s life and ministry on North Georgia, including some that didn’t make it into the book. 

Asa75th02 Asa, now 92 years old, spoke to the congregation for about ten minutes.  Speaking about the funerals he performed, Asa quoted a line from Shakespeare dealing with the weight of your words as it relates to the weight of grief.  He said he always kept that in mind and tried to bring comfort to the family with words that were lighter, not heavier than the grief they were bearing.  He spoke fondly of the three terms he served as pastor of Union Grove Church, the first one beginning in 1934 when he was only 18 years old.  And he quoted in it’s entirety the passage of scripture in Romans that he preached from that Sunday in 1933.

We live in a day where many pastors move all over the country as they climb up the ministry equivalent of the corporate ladder, with each church being larger and more influential than the last.  It is very rare for someone to spend his entire ministry in the same geographic area.  It is even rarer for that ministry career to span the better part of eight decades.  Sunday morning the people of Cleveland, Georgia had a chance to recognize the investment of a life, to honor the man for his dedication and integrity, and to give thanks to the One who called him to serve them seventy-five years earlier.

As he closed his remarks Sunday, Asa compared our lives to a stage.  We enter in the same way through a door called birth, and we all exit the same way through a door called death.  The time in between is lived out on the stage called life. He noted that he was closer than ever to that second door.  “Beyond that door,” Asa said, “is everything that I have preached about for the last 75 years… and it’s looking better all the time!”

Related: Happy 92nd Asa Dorsey

Note:  Larry Fricks is one of the subjects of a new book written by Meredith Vieira’s husband Richard Cohen entitled “Strong At the Broken Places.”  Larry, who lives with Bipolar Disorder, travels all over the country as a resource and an advocate for those living with mental illness. The book was profiled on NBC’s Today Show this week.  (Click here to view the Today Show segment profiling Larry Fricks.)

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