Some ladies in their eighties like to keep their age a secret. Sprightly Bernice Cresswell of Greenville, SC was one who didn’t.
In fact, every Mother’s Day in recent years she went forward at her church, Oak Crest Baptist, to receive the orchid for oldest mother in the church.
Bernice was also one of those stalwart Christians who hasn’t thrown in the towel on Christian service because of her age.
She continued teaching Sunday School and singing in the church choir and she also used her considerable musical ability to God’s glory. In fact, she served as an assistant pianist at church and held weekly concerts and religious meetings at a nursing home.
“I try to play the old songs,” said Bernice, whose musical preferences on the piano ran towards classical and religious pieces. “Those are what the folks in rest homes love the most – like Amazing Grace, What a Friend, In the Garden and When We All Get to Heaven.
Bernice meets Thad
Bernice had started playing the piano at rest homes some years before. Thus using her musical ability opened the way for her to have a personal ministry talking to various individuals about the Lord. One elderly black man, Thad, bitterly said, “Don’t talk to me about the Lord. I’ve been badly treated in my life. I didn’t deserve that!”
Bernice opened her Bible. “Well, Thad, I’m sure you know a lot of people have been treated unfairly. But God doesn’t approve of that! God really loves you, Thad. He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for you – for your sins – so that you might go to heaven some day. Why not let me show you this from His Word?”
Thad grunted and Bernice went through God’s plan of salvation, Romans 3:23, 6:23; 5:8, 10:9-10, l3, and explained it.
“You see, Thad, we all have sinned and come short of God’s glory. But God showed His great love for us by sending His beloved Son Jesus to pay the price for our sins. The wages of sin is death and God’s gift to us is eternal life. To receive a gift, you have to take it, don’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Thad agreed, staring at her.
“The Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Now who do you think ‘whosoever’ means?”
“Well, anybody, I guess. Does it mean me, too?”
“It certainly does! You can call on Jesus right now to save you, Thad, and He will. And He will give you His wonderful peace and joy, too!” After explaining further, Bernice invited Thad to pray with her to receive Jesus Christ as his Saviour. He humbly bowed his head and followed her in prayer.
“There was a big change in Thad after that,” Bernice told me. “He was a new man! Gone was the bitterness, the angry expression on his face. At last Thad knew peace in his heart. I still visit with Thad every week and we talk about the Lord together.”
One attractive white woman at the nursing home who had a stroke couldn’t talk much. But whenever they held a beauty contest at the home, this lady won hands down. Her favorite song was, Precious Lord, Take My Hand. When she couldn’t come to the meeting, Bernice visited her in her room to read the Bible to her and have prayer with her. In fact, Bernice often visited those who, for one reason or another, couldn’t attend the meetings. The social workers at the home appreciated the group’s coming each week. “You really bring these people out,” one said to Bernice. “Ordinarily some of them never participate in anything, but when you come they seem to join right in and come to more normality.” This was especially true of those whose minds had been disoriented by Alzheimer’s disease. “Even though they may not be able to hold a conversation,” Bernice said, “they join right in and sing all the words of the old hymns. It comes back to them!”
After the meeting with singing, special music and a short devotional, refreshments were served during which time the group could fellowship with the various patients.
Never too old to serve!
Bernice Cresswell took piano and violin lessons and played in an orchestra while attending Due West Women’s College (now Erskine) some years ago. After graduation and marriage, she served as church organist at several churches in the Greenville area. Besides being a wife and mother of two children, Bernice also taught first through fourth-graders for several years at Mountain Missionary School, a Baptist school that once operated in her area. At one time she also worked with the bus ministry of a large church she attended, visiting in homes to spread the gospel and offer residents free rides to church and Sunday School. But always her first love in service was her music.
“Looking back,” she said, “my real love for music, singing with different groups, playing piano and organ – using the talent God gave me in this field – has been a genuine pleasure for me!”
Even though Bernice Cresswell had a touch of arthritis, she kept right on playing for the Lord.
“There is joy in serving Jesus,” she said. “Why should I give up that joy just because of a few aches and pains? As long as I can move my fingers, I’ll go right on serving Him on the piano and as His witness!”
Bernice did just that. Not long after she shared her story with me, she became ill. Several days later, at the age of 87, Bernice went home to be with her Lord where I have no doubt she has already joined the heavenly choir – and maybe even has a harp to play on!
Note: When I was church organist at Oak Crest, I played with Bernice on the piano from time to time. She always struck me as a very special person! – Muriel Larson