No one knew what to think of Terry Chappell when he first began attending POBC.
A short, round man, he would walk in with his sweat pants and t-shirt and take his place in the pews. He would sit in one section for a few months, then unexpectedly find another place. Terry was slightly hunched over, and would sit almost completely motionless for large spans of time, his eyes peering straight ahead, giving nothing away.
We knew Terry was brought to church by one of our men, and we knew he was from a veteran's home, but we knew little else about him. The first time I talked to him, I was taken aback by his unique greeting. I extended my hand and said something to the effect of, "Hi, my name is Ryan. It's good to have you today."
Terry sprang into action, grabbing my hand and half-spoke, half-shouted, "Blessings and tidings of peace be upon you, Son of David!" We repeated this process almost every Sunday for years, our handshake eventually becoming a fist-bump. I would walk by, and he'd already be raising his fist. He loved to greet people.
Terry became a bit of a legend at our church, but it wasn't because of his surprising greetings, his faithful attendance (I can't remember him ever missing), or even his t-shirt that appeared to sport a Sprite logo, but with the word "Sprite" being replaced by "Holy Spirit."
It was his clapping.
Terry loved to clap his hands in church. He would clap during songs and while the rest of the congregation took a few moments to applause or thank God. But Terry also loved to clap when no one else was clapping. Actually, he loved to clap during times when no one would expect anyone to even think of clapping.
His rhythm wasn't steady — far from it. He would wait for a preacher to be in mid-sentence during a story, then he would slowly lift his hands, hesitate, and begin to clap.
At first, people would turn to figure out who this was clapping during moments of near-silence. Some were annoyed by the disruption, distracted by the noise that seemed so out of place. But people eventually became accustomed to Terry's clapping, and even began to smile the moment it began.
Over time, Terry was bestowed a nick-name that was so closely tied to his POBC persona that many did not even know his name, or at least not his last name. Terry Chappell was his secondary name. Most knew him simply as "Happy Clappy."
I don't remember who came up with the nickname, but it's important to note that it isn't mockery that caused everyone to call Terry "Happy Clappy." It was truly a term of endearment. As he would move from section to section, eventually settling on the second row, about 12 feet from the pulpit, we would be surprised to hear him on the far left instead of the right side of the risers. But there was no confusing Terry's clapping with anyone else's. Happy Clappy had no equal.
Over time, Terry's generous spirit became evident. Despite living with the mental repercussions of heavy drug usage, likely after his service in Vietnam, Terry demanded to pay his tithes. He would give to noble causes, despite no one expecting a disabled man from a veteran's home to bring anything. When he found out that my wife, Shari, had a weak spot for watermelons, he would bring one to the church, happy to be generous.
Eight days ago, he brought Shari a final watermelon. Just before leaving for a youth trip to Louisville, Kentucky, she placed a thank-you card in the mail to send to Bro. Terry. We didn't realize that it would be our last correspondence with the beloved man.
This last Saturday night, August 10, 2013, Terry Chappell left this world in his sleep. The news was such a blow to POBC that when Pastor Shannon tearfully delivered the news, it resulted in a forceful gasp from the the people that had come to love the man. Many tears have been shed across our membership in the past 24 hours.
In their love for Terry Chappell, POBC displayed the qualities that I believe make our church so special. Here was a man that had little to offer. His mental faculties had deteriorated and he caused very minor disturbances that might have been cause for irritation in many, but instead he became one of the most beloved and cherished figures in our church.
Perhaps it's cheesy, and maybe this is a ridiculous thing to admit, but as I think of Terry today, I can imagine him walking through the pearly gates, peering straight ahead, transitioning into a new body and mind. But as he enters in, it would no longer be Terry applauding, but a chorus of angels taking his place, raising their hands, hesitating just a moment, then welcoming him in unison with a beautiful greeting:
Heaven's gain is POBC's loss, but I hope to see him again — to join together with the countless men and women who loved Terry for who he was: Happy Clappy.
I already miss you, Brother Terry. I love you.