A Gentle Man of This Place: A funeral sermon for John Richard Jarrell
John Richard Jarrell
My grandfather John Richard Jarrell died on Jan 23 at 92 years old. He lived his entire life on Jarrell Farm Road near Wentworth, NC, and was a lifelong member of Bethlehem United Methodist Church there. I was honored to deliver this sermon at his funeral.
I’m the only preacher I know of in the family, but a couple generations back, preaching nearly became the family business. When John Richard Jarrell was young, he began telling his parents that he thought he might want to become a Methodist preacher. They asked why he was thinking that, and he responded that he wanted to be able to eat fried chicken every Sunday afternoon. They must have thought they had young Samuel on their hands, but on closer consideration, it was not God calling John Richard, just his stomach.
Though the call God placed on Granddaddy’s life was not to preaching, not with words, anyway, but it ran as deep in this place as any call ever runs, as deep as the ocean that the Dan River, just down the hill from us, runs to.
For as long as I can remember, everyone who has stopped at the corner of Jarrell Farm Rd and Bethlehem Church Rd has seen, as they pulled in, a sign situating them to their location. It reads: “The Jarrells’ Favorite Spot.” And indeed it was, and is, the Jarrells’ favorite spot. Granddaddy was never keen on being away from his favorite spot for too long. No overnight trips for him, if he could help it. The gravity of that place was great for him, and for all of us. The favorite spot kept us grounded, and it called us all to return here regularly to visit, to connect, to remember ourselves.
There are a few stories, though, that I have heard overnight trips. Long-ago vacations to the beach, if I recall correctly. When Ernie, Ted, and Jay would invariably take to the brotherly task of annoying one another in the car, Grandma would turn around and sternly tell them to quit. She followed that instruction with the warning, “We’re going to have fun on this trip if I have to beat you every five minutes.” Granddaddy just kept driving, no doubt amused.
JRJ on the right, Harris grandparents on the left.