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By Jane Powell. Photographs by Paul Bickford.

Al Astle

“Please use me.” These are the words of Al Astle, an active and vital member of Richmond’s First Baptist Church who celebrated his 95th birthday on August 30, 2011.

Al is a Sunday morning balcony usher, a volunteer for the Community Missions Shower Ministry, and a volunteer at Henrico Doctors Hospital, Forest Campus. In July, Al achieved 7100 hours of volunteer service in the endoscopy unit, transferring patients and making them comfortable. In 2006, he was the recipient of the hospital’s Humanitarian of the Year award.

Al has a heart for service, and for doing God’s work. Having had a distinguished career as a professional percussionist in symphonies from New York to Oklahoma, he had an equally distinguished managerial career in instrument sales. Al spent ten years driving a YMCA bus after his retirement, transporting children to after-school programs.

Al could relate many stories about the people he has helped over the years, but one story in particular is very close to his heart. It involves a dying woman he knew in only the briefest passing, from the building in which they both lived. Al felt the strong urging of the Holy Spirit to minister to this woman in her hospital room. Her capacity to respond to him was severely diminished, but she let him know that she understood. He recited the Lord’s Prayer and read Isaiah 26:3-4, verses suggested by his minister son. Those comforting words about the constancy of the Lord were among the last she ever heard, as she died only a short time after Al’s visit.

Pastor Emeritus Jim Flamming spoke during the “A Life in Ministry” Wednesday evening session in the church’s Dining Hall July 6. He urged the assembled group of retirees and near-retirees to reorder their lives for the Lord’s service when they have finished their careers. Perhaps he had Al in mind, along with some others among the membership who continue to serve the Lord into their eighties and nineties. Dr. Flamming knows, as does Al, that a post-retirement life of meaningful service can be a great and enriching reward and a wonderful way to draw nearer to the Savior.

Al says: “Take one day at a time, and leave it in the Lord’s hands.” From a man who has lived 95 years, including many years of continuing and faithful service, this is good advice.


Jane Powell has been a member of FBC since 2005 and is a member of Journey Bible study class. She has sung in the church choir and volunteered for community mission work, but her current focus is on lobbying the state and federal legislatures to protect the rights and safety of the severely intellectually disabled of Virginia. She has testified publicly, met with members of state government and the U. S. Department of Justice, and penned several letters published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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