The year-change is special because of people. It is a season of taking note of people with whom we form communities. Some we know personally, others less so.
One such person with whose memory I would now pause is the Rev. Ed Dobson of the Calvary Church in Grand Rapids. I agree, a somewhat unusual choice for this column, but Ed Dobson was “owned” by a community larger than his congregation. His Christian thinking was larger than that of most believers and so were the trials he endured.
Dobson came to Grand Rapids to serve the Calvary Church in 1987. He was born in Northern Ireland and came to the States as a 14-year-old son of a preacher’s family. He worked for Liberty University in Virginia for 15 years before becoming the senior pastor of the Calvary Church. The congregation counted 10,000 worshipers in 2005 when Ed had to terminate his ministry having been struck by ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Decease.” He bore the pains with exceptional courage and endurance.
Dobson was nothing less than a brother to whoever came in contact with him. He was a favorite speaker and trusted counselor to pastors from a variety of churches. They found encouragement in him no matter the nature of their problems.
His ministry was marked by personal freedom and concern that came from a deep personal relationship with Jesus. Matt Vande Bunte wrote of him in The Grand Rapids Press issue on December 31: “He was compellingly relevant, yet unashamedly an advocate for the historic theological landmarks of orthodoxy. He was merciful, yet prophetic; he was an encourager, yet honest and confrontational when necessary; he was authentic, transparent and deeply in love with Jesus. To a generation of young people who long for his kind of authenticity, he was a student magnet.”
Following his retirement, Dobson spent a year trying to live like Jesus. He spent a lot of time with Grand Rapids Rabbi David Krishev learning about Judaism. Said Dobson about that year (2009), “I don’t think I did everything right or had all the answers, but I did my best to wrestle with Jesus’ teachings. The way of Jesus is very hard…” It was an expression of his deeply personal relationship to Christ.
During that year he voted for Barak Obama, a decision for which he was widely criticized. In accounting for it Dobson said that he had little faith in any politician, no matter the party, but that in Obama he felt a sensitivity to the teachings of Jesus.
Following the attacks on New York in September, 2001, Dobson told his congregation that he had realized that people were capable of incredible evil but that the ultimate solution lay in a change of people’s heart, one at a time.