“How Shall the Young Secure Their Hearts?” was one of Daddy’s favorite songs. As he drove a busload of children from Potter Children’s Home to sing around the country, this was the theme.
If it is true, as James says, that, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” then Barclay Riley was religious in the best way.
It would be hard to measure the impact of his ministry — 25 years as Superintendent of Potter Children’s Home, 20 years with Tennessee Children’s Home, and more than half a century as a minister in Japan, Tennessee and Kentucky.
When Bob Neal baptized Daddy not far from his burial place in Allensville, Ky., I don’t suppose he knew how many people this skinny fellow, who had cut asparagus along the fence rows, would harvest for Christ. He baptized me, my two brothers, Steve Barclay and Joe Neal, and two sisters, Mary Linda Moore and Sara Boyd, and hundreds of young people at Potter as well as young and old in other places.
Our family theme song was “Cotton Fields Back Home.” Imagine us (packed car!) driving Kentucky and Tennessee back roads singing along the way, “When I was a little bitty baby, my Momma would rock me in a cradle.” For a man who was an only child, whose mother died young, to be surrounded by a loving wife, five children, and hundreds of other children who were like his own, he was practically in heaven!
He adored Momma. He got a bachelor’s from Lipscomb College and a Master’s from Vanderbilt University, both in Nashville, Tenn., but while at Kentucky Bible College he met his bride-to-be. He bragged that he finished the two-year degree in three years because he met Marilyn McKinley and wanted to stay in school. One of his favorite passages was, “A worthy woman, who can find?” “I know the answer to that question,” he would say, “Barclay Riley!”
One day in a restaurant parking lot we saw a man mistreating a woman. Daddy and Momma went out to help. Daddy told the man that that was no way to treat a woman. The man snapped back, “Who do you think you are?” Daddy responded, “I’m a minister of the gospel of Christ.” When the man smirked and said “Ooh,” Momma cautioned: “Don’t make fun of Christ.” They made a great tag-team. The man apologized and walked away quietly.
“I’m a minister of the gospel of Christ.” That’s the way he lived. That’s the hope in which he trusted. A person’s ministry does not have to be complicated. All can encourage. All can bless the less fortunate. All can smile. Whenever Anne and I visited their home in Russellville, Ky., we could not leave without a song and a prayer. Daddy always wanted us to sing “I’ll Meet You in the Morning.”
“I’ll meet you in the morning by the bright riverside, when all sorrow has drifted away. I’ll be standing at the portals when the gates open wide, at the close of life’s long dreary day. You’ll know me in the morning by the smiles that I wear, when I meet you in the city four square.”
We would chuckle that the book said “smiles (plural) that I wear,” but Daddy loved the sentiment. Service to God is not complicated. All can encourage. All can bless the less fortunate. All can smile. The fact that someday we will see each other again and recognize those smiles warmed the heart of Barclay Riley.
— Tom Riley