“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Rev. Dennis Kingsland

A co-laborer with us in working to open churches to persons with disability died this past week. I only knew Rev. Dennis Kingsland for a few years, and unfortunatley, only in contexts of working toward changing the church in areas of disability ministry. Dennis headed up the Inland Empire (Southern California) advisory board for Joni and Friends of which I am a part. He was passionate about people with disabilities and passionate about seeing people gain faith and understanding of the Lord.

The image which was repeated at his memorial service yesterday, was that Dennis was like the horse in the starting gate, struggling to get moving, desparate to go forward. As the disease which ultimately took his life progressed, he was debilitated, but was always saying that "I wish I could do more." He would even apologize for his health condition to those around him, because he wished, like the horse in the starting gate, he could bust out and really push ahead.

I will never forget a conversation I once had with him on the campus of Cal Baptist University. We were talking about some of the impediments to churches moving forward. Dennis as a pastor himself, founder of a church, leader in his denomination, and pastor emeritas told me that pastors are often the bottleneck in opening churches to persons with disabilities. Although I guess I already knew that, to hear it from a pastor of his stature was a revelation to me. Based on that conversation, I came away realizing that at least in the short term, changes in the church are probably not going to come from the leadership of the church. We needed a movement of lay professionals to come in and challenge the discrimination which occurs in the church. We particularly needed people in special education who are also Christians. Based on that conversation, I began to ruminate about what I could do to facilitate the development that movement of lay professionals. Ultimately myself and others came up with the professional organization we started called the National Association of Christians in Special Education. When this organization was birthed a little over a year ago, I remember Dennis being enthused about the idea. It was a way to potentially break open the bottle neck and move the church on a path which should have been a 4 lane highway by this point in time.

On a personal note, Dennis was always very encouraging to me personally. Have you ever met someone where you felt you had their favor? Dennis never did anything specific for me other than stimulate my thinking, and listen to me, but I felt as I was one of his favorite people (I suspect there are hundreds of people whom he made to feel that way). That is another thing that I will always remember about him. That is also something I hope I can emulate about his life as well. To be with someone and to feel like you are loved by him or her, that you have their favor must have been what it was like to be with Jesus himself, which, by the way is where Dennis is today.


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