Al Astle will be 97 on August 30, but he’s still so cool that when he walks past you can feel a breeze. I’ve heard him play the vibraphone. Think Lionel Hampton or some of the other jazz legends of his era. The man can groove.
At least, the man could groove.
I’m not sure Al plays the vibraphone anymore, but this much he does: Sunday after Sunday, when he is able, he sits on a stool in the East Balcony and welcomes the people who come to church. His son, Chris, often sends me updates on his dad, and he sent this picture in an email titled “Father’s Day, Part I.” Chris says, “Here is Papa Al as he passes out the bulletins before the service at First Baptist Richmond.” I don’t know about you, but if I were coming to church on a Sunday morning, tired and a little bit grumpy, the sight of Al sitting on his stool would cheer me up. It might even bring heaven a little closer to earth.
If that’s all Al did it would be enough, but if tradition holds I will also see Al at Community Missions this morning, sitting in a chair behind a table helping our homeless neighbors check their bags so they can take showers and receive other services. I filled in for Al one Wednesday recently when he was in the hospital and gained even more respect for who he is and what he does.
There must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth. Al Astle, at age 96, is practicing at least two of them, and maybe more.
If I close my eyes I can almost hear his vibraphone.