Adrian Condit has been a witness to enough pain and suffering and trials in life that his sermons at age 85 are softer than they were as a young fiery Oklahoma preacher starting out in 1951.
The pastor of Village Chapel Free-Will Baptist Church in Ceres - who turns 86 on Christmas Day - admits that even family members can see how he has "mellowed out."
"They think I'm not as stern with my preaching and correction and that I preach with more compassion and grace than I used to," said Condit. "I grew up with preachers that were more on the judgmental side. They'd rather judge you rather than bring you out from under condemnation."
Admittedly, it was the front-row seat to human frailty inside Memorial Medical Center - where he served as senior chaplain to the ill and dying for 21 years - that rounded off the sharper edges and made him the kinder and gentler disciple that he is today.
There were many times, after visiting with and praying with a person in their dying days, that he had to seek the refuge of his office down the hall and let the tears flow. It was there that he would ask God for inner strength to be able to do the work.
"I learned to accept people more where they're at than I ever have before in my life. It's not your church. It's not your religion. It's not what church you belong to but it's about what you have in your heart. It's about Jesus. And if it's not about Him, it's not going to be about much."
The softening may also have much to do with the personal heartaches as a father watching his children go through crisis: One battling drug addiction. Another who endured a scandal of tabloid proportions and the end of political career. Another who suffered a debilitating vehicle crash. The elder Condit, whose white hair has curled following hormone shots used to treat prostate cancer, said his faith in Jesus Christ has seen him through.
"We went through a lot of trial and hurt. You go through stuff. It's hard. You might get a little bogged down but there's a way out and I know the Lord is the way. Jesus said, ‘I am the way' and He's the way out of our places of hurt and pain."
It's hard to imagine Adrian Condit, who generously weaves scripture into routine conversation with a kindly, thick southern drawl, doing anything other than preaching. But there was a time in which Condit never dreamed of being a pastor. Born Dec. 25, 1927 to Bill and Pigeon Condit, Adrian had only been exposed to farming before serving two years in the Navy on the heels of World War II. Becoming a pastor was the last thing he thought of becoming while driving ambulances for the fleet hospital #114 in the Samurai islands near the Philippines. But the Navy experience taught him the discipline of following orders that one does not want to do. That discipline laid the groundwork for answering another set of orders he didn't want to obey.
Older brother E.B. Condit was a pastor at the Little Rock Baptist Church outside of Locust Grove, Okla., which was Adrian's excuse to fight his own personal calling to go into the ministry.
"I was stubborn," he said with a rich laugh. "I wasn't going to preach. I said, ‘Lord, one preacher in this family is enough. Let me do something else. I'll be a deacon. I'll lead the singing. I'll teach a Sunday School class. I'll do whatever. Just don't ask me to preach.' He won. One way or the other God's going to win."
He preached his first sermon in 1951 in his brother's church.
Village Chapel, a small church across from Caswell Elementary School, is the reason the Condits made Ceres home. The church called Adrian Condit to pastor in August 1967 from Tulsa, Oklahoma and he stayed 16 years until he made a change.
Coming with them were sons Burl (born in 1946), Gary (1948), Darrell Wayne "Hoppy" (1952) and daughter Dovie (1955). Gary was married and attending college at Stanislaus State in 1972 when he decided to enter Ceres city politics. Adrian tried talking Gary out of the idea, noting how dirty politics can be. Gary reminded his preacher father that "a lot of politicking that goes on in church too."
In 1983 Memorial Medical Center CEO Paul Thomas called on Condit to become hospital chaplain. He had served as chaplain at the Ceres hospital and they liked his work.
"I was there 21 years and it was a great ministry. I enjoyed the chaplaincy and I still miss it to a degree because I'm a people person and I like the routine of visiting people every day and praying with them and sharing with them."
Everything changed inside Ceres' most prestigious family in 2001 when Congressman Gary Condit was consumed in a major scandal after the disappearance of missing intern Chandra Levy. The 9/11 terrorist attack took the scandal out of headlines, but the damage was already done: Gary lost the Democratic primary for his re-election bid to Dennis Cardoza in 2002. Gary and Carolyn packed up and moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., with most of the Condits following. Adrian and Jean Condit sold their Gail Court home and lived in Arizona for a while. Adrian said they never really left Ceres but when they returned they moved into the Acorn Lane home that Gary and Carolyn lived in during his political career.
A scandal may have ruined his son's congressional career but the dad still believes the son served with honest ambition to help people.
"He was trying to do the right thing for the people."
It's that same desire to serve others that will be the impetus for Adrian's great-grandchildren to enter politics if they do, he said.
"Whatever this younger Condit generation decides to do, they'll do it with all of their heart and they'll do a great job at it."
The Condits started worshiping at Village Chapel again where Marcus Minkler had been pastor. Adrian had vowed, after retirement, to keep busy in a pastoral role preaching at funerals or filling pulpits "now and then."
"I wasn't going to quit preaching as long as there's a place for me to preach, as long as I can," said Condit.
"I had no idea that I'd be back pastoring the church."
When Minkler left the church in 2008, Adrian Condit was called to be pastor. He brought back more of the old hymns that many of the older members liked and numbers steadily increased.
Condit sees himself continuing to pastor at the church "until the Lord gets through with me."
"I'm just here because of Him. I've always loved what I'm doing for all these years. I've been preaching now for over 60 years."
For now Pastor Condit sees nothing wrong with sticking around into his 90s, pointing out that an old family doctor, Dr. J. Carl Hornberger, retired at age 90 last week.
"I thought, well, lord, Dr. Hornberger, if you could doctor until you're 90, I guess I can preach until I'm 90."
Longevity runs in the Condit bloodline. His mother died at age 91, his dad was 89, and three brothers reached the respective ages of 86, 89 and 92. But he believes something else keeps him going.
"What keeps me going is the hope that I have in eternal life and the hope that I have in the coming of the Lord Jesus and the burden of my heart to see people saved. This old world is headed for a time of trouble like it's never been in before. People are missing the mark because they're just sort of drifting alone with an attitude like it's going to be like this forever."
His 68-year marriage to former high school sweetheart Jean Condit also keeps him going. "She's been a great inspiration."
The Condit family patriarch said he's also "trying to put as much in the love of God" in the "hearts and little minds" of his 12 great-grandchildren.