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A Tribute to Deacon Clifford Patrick (1935-2021)

Two years ago, I dedicated a column to my friend Deacon Patrick, who died on Friday, Feb. 23, 2021. The above dates represent 85 years, five months, and 21 days. In his passing, there is no doubt that he received the invitation: "Welcome good and faithful servant, come in and claim your reward."

He was a stalwart deacon of Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church and he will be missed. The family asked me to give remarks at his graveside funeral on Saturday, March 6, 2021 at Southview Cemetery. Even though COVID-19 continues to rage, most of us have now received the vaccine and we all wore masks, but the urge to hug each other is irresistible. It felt wonderful to see my fellow congregants on this blustery Saturday afternoon. It pains me that we have not had services for almost a year.

I always got the feeling that when it was prayer time at our church and Deacon Patrick was taking us to the throne of Christ with either a prayer or a song, he had God's undivided attention. As his booming voice sent up our prayers and praises, you could just feel the showers of blessings descending on us. I once told him that if I preceded him, to say an intercessory prayer on my behalf to assure me a place in Heaven. As he has preceded me, I am making my feeble attempt to pray him up.

We can all testify that Deacon Patrick loved his wife, his family, his church, his pastor, and I believed he loved me as well. As the newest member of our Deacon Board, I was his special project, guiding me to become the deacon he believed I could become. I was more than willing to follow his lead, especially when he tried to teach me the old-time spirituals.

While all the deacons are dandy and turn out when they show up, Deacon Patrick was singularly known for his sartorial splendor. This was all topped off by his confident Denzel Washington stride as he made his way from his house (a block away) to the church on Sunday mornings, allowing enough time to wave, greet, and exchange pleasantries with neighbors.

He once told me: "I always take time to find out if there is anything I can do for a neighbor." He is so put together and so manly that in another time and place, he would be taken as a count or a prince. But through it all, he never questioned the will of God. "If you want to be at peace with yourself, put everything in God's hands. That is how I can sit down happy each day."

He told me that his favorite Bible passage was: "Look at the birds of the air; then neither sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" (Mathew 6: 26-27)

While he never complained about his declining health, he did complain about not having church. He was nevertheless comforted by the love and fellowship of his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. His favorite hymns were: "Low Down, Chariot;" "Try Jesus;" "Lord, Let Your Light Shine;" "Tell the World About Jesus;" and "Lord, I've done done what you told me to do." Both of us are great admirers of our church music and our choirs.

It occurs to me that our lives on earth are only temporary and our ture everlasting life is our afterlife. Our first life is only a trial or a test for the hereafter. If we live the life that God commanded of us (The Ten Commandments), we will enjoy peace and joy in our permanent home, but woe unto those who "were foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another." (Titus 3:3)

Everyone of us should be ashamed if we die before doing something wonderful for our fellow travelers on this earth. Are you your brother's keeper?

His son, Deacon JW Bentley, said: "Deacon Patrick was dedicated to our God and loyal to family and church. He was always the first to volunteer to do whatever needed to be done. He worked as a forklift Operator at the mill and then for Walmart after the mill closed. He can now claim his reward for a lifetime of good works and good will towards others."

Let the church say, "Amen!"

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