RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Like so many of the 1,200 attendees, Jean and Lee Barham were hoping to hear inspirational music and messages at the inaugural Senior Adult Southern Gospel Celebration at the LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
“Seniors tend to go to things like this,” said Jean Barham, who’s been married to Lee for 46 years. “We were looking to get away and spend time together. This was outstanding.”
The Barhams, of Youngsville, N.C., had attended several senior events throughout the Southeast. Their appreciation for the Ridgecrest gathering included the messages by former New York Yankees’ second baseman Bobby Richardson and evangelist Junior Hill; the comedy of Dennis Swanberg; the music of Southern Gospel groups Greater Vision, the Greenes, The Hoppers and Triumphant Quartet; and pianist Dino Kartsonakis.
The conference, put together by LifeWay Christian Resources and Williams Evangelistic Ministries, drew people from as far away as Texas and Colorado.
Tim Williams, president of Williams Evangelistic Ministries, started doing senior adult conferences about 10 years ago as a way to encourage seniors to keep serving in the church.
“We do revivals that involve children, youth, singles, college students, young married couples and we forget about senior adults,” Williams said.
At conferences for seniors, Williams added, “[I]t’s not uncommon to see professions of faith. We don’t see a lot like at a big revival or a crusade, but seldom do we have a senior conference where we don’t see several professions of faith. Sometimes you have so-and-so who brings her husband who doesn’t go to church and he hears the Gospel and comes to faith.”
At the end of the opening night, Williams extended an invitation to accept Christ as Savior. Six seniors did just that.
Those who came forward had just listened to Richardson, 72, the 1960 World Series Most Valuable Player, seven-time American League All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner who still lives in his hometown of Sumter, S.C. Richardson, who was saved when he was 14, spoke about his witness to his close friend and fellow Yankee, Mickey Mantle.
Mantle, who battled alcohol addiction, listened to Richardson’s testimony of faith in Jesus Christ and heard about salvation numerous times, including during Mantle’s chemotherapy treatments before he died of cancer in 1995. At Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Mantle told Richardson he had accepted Christ.
“I walked into his room and he had a smile on his face and said, ‘I can’t wait to tell you this,'” Richardson recounted. “I told him I wanted to go over it with him to make sure he got it straight. I went over God’s plan of salvation with him. He said, ‘That’s what I’ve done.’
“[Richardson’s wife] Betsy went back and shared her testimony with him. She asked, ‘If a holy God appeared today and asked you this question: Why should I let you in my heaven? -– what would you say?’ Mickey then quoted John 3:16. He had real peace and died three days later.”
In his message, Richardson asked, “What is a man’s man?” and noted, “You have to dare to stand for your principles when the world around you doesn’t. We need men like that. It doesn’t matter what is in the head. It’s the heart that matters.”
The music at the May 13-14 gathering brought the seniors to their feet at times, whether in singing traditional hymns like “Love Lifted Me” and “Standing on the Promises of God” or through the performances by the various Southern Gospel groups.
Next year, LifeWay will hold the Senior Adult Southern Gospel Celebration at both its Ridgecrest conference center near Asheville (April 20-22) and Glorieta conference center near Santa Fe, N.M. (May 12-15).
Jerry Higgins is a writer based in Raleigh, N.C.