Devotion to Jones County church's children has spanned decades for "Mr. Charles"

10/15/2014

By Ed Grisamore*

Sure, Moses spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness with the children of Israel.

But did he ever have to change a diaper?

Charles Reese has spent 40 years keeping the nursery for the children of Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church.

He has dried their tears, fed them “goldfish” crackers, read them Bible stories and sung “Jesus Loves Me” from his rocking chair more times than any 75-year-old retired civil service employee in the history of Jones County.

A former pastor at Pitts Chapel once gathered some youngsters at his feet for a “children’s sermon” on Sunday morning.

He asked whose church they were in. He was expecting them to say, “God’s Church.”

“Mr. Charles’ church!” one kid answered.

Everyone in the congregation nodded and laughed.

Nobody, not even God, demanded a retraction.

“Some of the children think they own Mr. Charles’ lap,” said his wife, Faye. “They don’t want to share.”

Pitts Chapel has a long and storied history. Founded in 1860, it was used as a hospital by Union troops in fall 1864 after the nearby Battle of Griswoldville during Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Reese, a gentle and humble man, has become a legend in his own right. When he began volunteering in the church nursery in October 1973, folks believed it would be a temporary assignment.

“I thought we would see him back in church with the rest of us,” Faye said.

Her husband, however, soon had other plans.

“I figured somewhere along the way I would probably tell myself I didn’t need to still be doing this,” he said. “But I have enjoyed it.”

His devotion to the nursery has meant sacrifice on his part. After all, he doesn’t get to worship in church with the “big people.”

While the congregation is learning about Jesus feeding a large crowd with five loaves and two fish, Reese is huddled in a tiny room, handing out Cheerios cereal, which he affectionately calls “baby doughnuts.”

He has listened to many a sermon by placing a baby monitor in the sanctuary.

“We can hear them, but they can’t hear us,” he said, laughing.

Faye has been a member at Pitts Chapel since 1950. Charles, a native of Emanuel County, became a member when they married in 1958.

The Reeses have four children, all “Special K’s” -- Kathy, Ken, Karla and Kerri. Kathy was born in 1959, and Ken the following year.

But twins Kerri and Karla didn’t come along until 13 years later, so there was a long gap between bottles.

At the time, Lillian Davis was in charge of the church nursery. With his wife expecting the twins, Reese volunteered to help in the nursery on Sunday mornings.

“Some people kidded me that I needed practice changing diapers, since it had been 13 years,” he said.

His commitment continued, even after his girls grew up. He has kept children as young as 10 days old and nurtured them all the way up to 4 years old. Some have believed he lives at the church, since they always see him there.

“I have now kept the children of children I once had in the nursery -- and even some of their grandchildren,” he said.

‘A safe, happy place’

Rick Lanford, superintendent of the North Central District of the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, was pastor at Pitts Chapel from 1983-88.

His daughters, Joanna and Sara Beth, spent many Sundays in Reese’s care. Even after they turned 4 and were “promoted” from the nursery, they never stopped going back to see him.

“I would sometimes take them over to Mr. Charles’ house and he would keep them while I went to make hospital visits,” Lanford said. “When I went to pick them up, they didn’t want to leave.”

Lanford said he is not surprised that Reese has devoted parts of five different decades to keeping the church nursery, although it is not a place where men traditionally volunteer.

“It’s his passion, his ministry to provide a safe, happy place for children so their families can worship in church,” Lanford said. “Children love him, and they run to him when they see him. He is always smiling, a true servant leader who represents the joy of God. The kingdom is a better place because of people like Charles Reese.”

John Irwin was the pastor at Pitts Chapel from 1993 to 2001. He is now the chaplain and director of development for Wesley Glen Ministries in Macon.

He placed Reese on his “most admired” list from the very beginning.

“I came home and told my wife if I can be as good as someone like Charles, I would consider myself a success in life,” Irwin said. “After his children were grown and gone, it would have been easy for him to have said ‘I’ve done my time.’ But he is so dependable. Whenever there is something going on at the church, you can count on him to be there.”

Faye Reese said her husband may be a father figure when it comes to the nursery, but he quietly performs many other duties behind the scenes.

“In a small church setting, people often volunteer in more than one area, and Charles is no exception,” she said. “He does many odd jobs in and around the church.

“However, the one he enjoys the most is from 11 to 12 each Sunday when he is in the nursery. He serves as an outside greeter until the first nursery child arrives, and then he is all theirs. They love him, and he loves them.”

Reese has a birthday coming up in November. And, of course, Christmas is just around the corner.

His own children always know what to give him.

He loves to unwrap toys for the nursery.

Said Faye: “They know where his heart is.”

*Reprinted with permission from The Macon Telegraph. Contact Ed Grisamore at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.