“You know, I never really thought I’d live as long as I did,” said the Rev. James Kelso with a laugh, reflecting on more than 70 years of mission work, preaching and serving the Presbyterian Church.
This Monday, Kelso, lifelong preacher and longtime resident of Dawson County, turns 100 years old, and to celebrate a long life, he led a sermon at Deer Creek Shores Presbyterian Church in northeastern Forsyth County on Sunday.
Kelso said that when he turned 90, someone asked him jokingly if he was planning on preaching on his 100th birthday, and he replied “sure, why not.”
“I didn’t really think I was going to live that long … and finally the time arrived and it doesn’t seem possible,” he said.
According to Kelso, he was born in rural west Kentucky in 1918, graduated high school in 1938, married his wife the next year and finally graduated from the seminary in 1946.
“By this time, we had two children. One was 6, the other was 2 and my wife and I talked about it a lot and decided we wanted to do missionary work,” he said.
The next 20 odd years for their family were spent dedicated to mission work in between Colombia and the states.
Their family grew and moved, gaining an adopted daughter who had been abandoned on the streets of Colombia.
Finally, after years of mission work, he said they decided to settle down and retire the missionary life for something more regular stateside.
Kelso said that he spent time preaching in different churches, spending several years here and there before moving on.
“Ten years was the longest I ever spent in one place,” he said.
When he and his wife decided to fully retire, three of his children convinced them to settle down close by in Dawson County.
“I always intended to retire and live on the land where I was born, but they talked me out of it and I’m glad they did,” he said with a chuckle.
In 1987, he got involved at Deer Creek Shores Presbyterian Church, never working there officially, but helping out when and where he could.
“I never served in an official capacity because I belonged to another denomination. But that didn’t matter,” Kelso said. “I worked in the church, served as an assistant to the pastor, and director of missions, and preached when the pastor was gone. So it’s been a good ministry for me because it gave me something to do in my older years without the full responsibility of the ministry of a church.”
He had to retire from service fully two years ago, saying that he had begun to grow feeble, and lose his eyesight.
“I didn’t feel too good getting up and down ... and I got to the place where I had to print my bulletin out in big print because I was losing my eyesight,” Kelso said.
But even after retiring, he said he still goes to church every Sunday like clockwork.
“The lord has blessed me with a long life,” Kelso said. “… If the lord wants you to preach you better do it.”