During the past 22 years, a 91-year old Lincolnton man has attended Sunday School class every single week, even when bedridden in a hospital.
â€œThatâ€™s the best part of the week,â€ said Berlie Dellinger of going to the Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church. â€œThatâ€™s when you try to learn more about God, and it tells you a lot about your neighbors, too.â€
Dellinger has attended the church since the age of 13, when his grandfather would take him. As an adult, he moved right next door.
â€œHeâ€™s a fixture there,â€ said the Rev. Ken Gibson, who is interim minister at Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church. â€œHeâ€™s almost as old as the church.â€
When Dellinger fell ill last month, he didnâ€™t want to break his 22-year, 1,148 day streak of perfect Sunday school attendance.
His fellow Sunday school members solved the problem by bringing the church to him.
â€œYou just donâ€™t see that very often,â€ said Jeanie Avery, Dellingerâ€™s niece. â€œThey recognized that church is important to him and that church is just a big family.â€
On all eight Sundays that Dellinger was hospitalized, church members held service with him either at Lincoln Medical Center or in the Brian Center Nursing Care.
This past Sunday, Dellinger was back in action. With the help of his niece and a wheelchair, he was once again at church for Sunday service.
He was also able to renew his duties as head usher, something he takes very seriously.
â€œHe makes everyone feel at home, and if thereâ€™s a visitor in the church, he spots them and gives them a visitor card,â€ said Gibson.
If the visitor is especially young or especially old, they might get a little something else. Dellinger comes to church stocked with bubblegum.
â€œI try to keep it all the time because thereâ€™s a lot of people who love bubblegum,â€ he said.
Before service starts, Dellinger is visited by young churchgoers. The older women in the church are also fans of the bubblegum.
â€œI try to stay on both ends â€“ the little end and the big end,â€ he said.
This habit dates back to his years working in a grocery store.
â€œHe would box groceries and deliver ,â€ said Avery. â€œIf they had a small child, he would always take them a piece of penny candy.â€
Prior to working in the grocery store, Dellinger was a cook in the Navy. He cooked for sailors all the way from Shanghai, China to Oregon.
â€œWhen we went aboard that little old ship, we had more good cooks than the rest of the Navy put together,â€ said Dellinger.
He also worked for a time at Carter Mill, and he retired from Cable Dairy where he loaded ice cream on milk trucks.
That job encouraged his love of sweets, which remains strong today.
â€œWe take him cookies all the time,â€ said Avery.
Along with giving out candy to churchgoers, Dellinger also enjoys talking to them about God.
â€œI love to get out and talk to people about that and get them started,â€ he said.
His belief and dedication to church has been an inspiration.
â€œI think people look forward to seeing him,â€ said Avery. â€œI think he represents strength to that church.â€
His recent bout of illness has left Dellinger relatively homebound. He can no longer drive a car and has difficulty walking without a walker.
That said, he enjoys his time reading, cultivating azaleas and visiting with people who stop by.
â€œHe has a lot of visitors,â€ said Billie Gates, his first cousin and caretaker.
by Sarah Grano