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Retiree makes joyful noise through church work

Presbyterian Men president blends local, national and international service

July 29, 2009

Robert James sings a gospel hymn at the Rehabilitation and Health Care Center at Village Green on Purdue Drive.

Robert James sings a gospel hymn at the Rehabilitation and Health Care Center at Village Green on Purdue Drive. —Octavio Jones/The Fayetteville Observer.

FAYETTEVILLE, NC

If you happen to become acquainted with Robert W. James a verse from the book of Psalms may come to mind: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye Lands.”

James, who prefers the name Bob, loves music, singing, and helping people — he is a fortunate man to have found a way to combine all three of these virtues in his life.

Since his retirement in 2004, as Title III grants program administrator for Fayetteville State University, James admits that life has not slowed down very much. He is an elder at College Heights Presbyterian Church, where he sings in three different choirs.

Another of his pastimes is to review and approve actions related to persons seeking to do mission work for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a member of the Vocation Committee of the General Assembly Mission Council.

Retirement is probably not the right word to describe what James, 71, does with his time. This retiree could not be busier. In April, James began serving a two-year term as president of the National Council of Presbyterian Men (NCPM), the PC(USA)’s national men's ministry organization, which also goes by the name National Presbyterian Men’s Ministry.

“I’m surprised to find myself in the position I’m in,” James said. “I’m a private person, and not much of a public speaker.”'

James was the featured speaker on Father’s Day at the Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, where the Men’s Day program theme was “Challenges Facing Men in the 21st Century.”

The spirit of his address, and maybe of his life in general, was summed up in his opening remarks, “I come as a representative of the triune God — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is not to suggest that I have a closer relationship with God than anybody else, or that my commitment to serving him is greater,” he said.

“What it does mean is that, since I consider myself a Christian, I am obligated to live my life as much like Christ as possible,” James said, “and thereby, encourage others to do likewise.”

His speech was entitled “Making Tomorrow a Brighter Day,” and in it, he challenges men to step up to the plate in solving some of life’s problems. “To ensure a brighter day for those affected  is to work with the youth today,” he said. “Get involved; work with the Scouts; youth sports teams; become a school volunteer; participate in tutoring and mentoring programs,” he said.

In Fayetteville, James and the men at College Heights Church are sponsoring a Cub Scout pack, and not surprisingly, James will be their Scout coordinator.

James says that by working at the local level with area churches, and through holding national seminars and workshops, the NCPM wants to emphasis four main target areas in the future: mentoring and tutoring youth, combating domestic violence, combating racism and conducting Bible studies for men.

"My responsibilities as president include representing NCPM on the upper level governing bodies of the Presbyterian Church and sub-committees; working to strengthen or establish men’s groups at local churches; writing articles for church publications; speaking engagements; attending meetings; and keeping our local men’s organization, of which I am also president, up-to-date on pertinent news,” he said.

The PC(USA) has more than 2.2 million members and 10,820 congregations.

In August, James will be representing the NCPM by attending the 85th annual conference of the National Laymen’s Association of the Presbyterian Church of  Korea in Seoul, Korea, where they anticipate 5,000 men will attend the meeting. The PC(USA) has been doing missionary work in Korea for more than a century, and Presbyterian men from South Korea traditionally attend NCPM meetings in the United States.

At their Denver conference in April, James accepted the Christian Service Award Gold Medal, the highest honor given by the Korean church’s National Laymen's Association. This award was for “rendering endless hard work in helping to build a harmonious and brotherly relationship between the Korean and American Laymen’s Associations of the Presbyterian Church, and to contribute to the fruitful Christian missions of your organization in spreading God's Word.”

“Although it was presented to me, I feel that the Christian Service Award Gold Medal is to honor the work of American Presbyterian men and the Korean Layman Association over the years,” James said.

Since the early 1990s, Korea has struggled with food shortages, and congregations have provided aid to North Koreans through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the denomination’s relief and development agency, and with other partners in North Korea through the PC(USA)’s World Mission office.

One recent Wednesday, James, his wife, Janice, and a friend, Sharon Johnson-Harris, a gospel recording artist, shared their musical talents with the residents of The Rehabilitation and Health Care Center at Village Green in Fayetteville. This was their first visit to Village Green, but once a month you can find them performing gospel music and enjoying fellowship with the residents at Whispering Pines Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and also at Highland House of Fayetteville.

“It’s a blessing to us,” said Janice James. “We see how happy they are to have us there.”

In spite of their busy schedule with church activities, the couple still takes the time to enjoy making music. James, a baritone, likes to sing, while Janice, who holds a doctorate in music, plays the piano.

Janice James retired from her job as an associate music professor at Fayetteville State University two years following her husband’s retirement. They have raised two children together: Robert, 39, and Robyn, 28, who also share their love of music. Both children majored in music in college. Robert Jr. plays guitar, while Robyn specializes in the viola. Occasionally their children have joined them in their volunteer work: bringing music to the community.

Married for 41 years, this husband and wife will be sharing the joys of song as they reach out to people in their community with songs like “When I’ve Done the Best I Can” and “What Wondrous Love is This.”

“I only hope they get as much out of it as we do. We pray that our work is benefiting some people,” James said.

In his recent Father’s Day speech, James posed these suggestions to his listeners: “Have you ever asked, ‘Lord, what would you have me to do?’ If so, do you feel that you are doing it? If not, then look about you and see what there is to be done.”

In his own quiet way, James is doing just that, while making a joyful noise.

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