As my dad would say, “This is the day that the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
First, I would like to thank all of you for your prayers, cards, kindnesses and encouragement over the past nine months. We know that we have come through this difficult time because of God’s grace and your faithful prayers, and it has brought joy to us to see God’s faithfulness in all of this. It never ceases to amaze me the wonderful blessings that come during times like this. It makes it very easy to give thanks in these circumstances.
I also wanted to take this opportunity to explain exactly what happened to my dad as I hear all kinds of stories from all kinds of people about what happened to him. On December 28, 2006, he was going to the microwave to heat up some soup at 6:38 p.m. All of sudden, he began to fall. My mom jumped up and lowered him to the floor and called 911. She began CPR and the paramedics arrived within four to five minutes. The paramedics did an excellent job in the field, and all three of his physicians were waiting on the curb when he arrived at the emergency room at Holy Cross Hospital via ambulance.
They were able to interrogate my dad’s pacemaker which showed he went into a heart rhythm called “v-tach,” which stands for ventricular tachycardia. This rhythm will not sustain life. It’s like his heart stopped. When this occurred, his brain was without a good supply of oxygen for approximately six to eight minutes which caused permanent damage. People have said he had a heart attack, that he’s had a stroke, and some have even said he has Alzheimer’s disease. None of that is true and the cognitive difficulties that he has are as a result of his brain being without oxygen.
Thankfully, the Lord spared his life and we began the long road to recovery. We remained at Holy Cross Hospital until March 1st. During that time, Rich DeVos visited my dad and suggested we think about more aggressive rehab. Mr. and Mrs. DeVos facilitated the transfer of my dad to the Mary Free Bed Rehab hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich.
What a wonderful place for my dad to receive outstanding therapy. They got my dad to walk again, be able to do his activities of daily living himself, etc. This is what made it possible for us to bring him home. When we left here March 1st, he had to be taken onto the plane in a wheelchair on a lift, it took three of us to transfer him from the wheelchair to the airplane seat, and he was taken from the plane to the rehab hospital in an ambulance. When we left there May 5th, my family took my dad in the car with us, and he walked up the steps of the plane with me and my husband. That was quite an achievement for my dad.
I could never express my appreciation and thanks to the DeVoses for their love and concern for my dad. I think as a congregation it is well for all of us to give thanks for these gracious people who have been so generous to our church, and on a personal note, I want to thank them for their commitment to my dad for the past 45 years.
Since we have been home, my dad goes to out patient therapy three times a week. My dad has had some set backs but has been able to bounce back. Unfortunately, he is not the same as we all knew him, but I can tell you, he is happy, he’s comfortable and he is still his loving and gracious self. His caregivers all love taking care of him because he is so kind, and let me say, the caregivers are the most loving and caring people you could ever want taking care of your mom or dad.
However, his best caregiver is my mom who cares for him everyday. It’s not easy and it never ends. She never complains and takes joy in caring for him. She wrote an e-mail to some friends of ours and told them that she has been by my dad’s side all these years and that is where she wants to be now. Right next to my mom is my husband, Chip, who has supported me continuously and encouraged me to take care of my dad for as long as I needed to and let me know that I was free to do whatever it took to do the right thing for my dad. I hope this clarifies for everyone what has happened to my dad.
For the past 48 years, my dad has served as the senior pastor of this church. He has served faithfully and without compromise. He started it in 1959 at the McNab School, and by 1962 they had built the church on Commercial Boulevard and had their first service there. Not long after that, he developed the Evangelism Explosion (EE) training program to teach lay people how to share their faith, and by 1967 they had the first EE clinic which trained ministers how to start EE in their church.
Because of EE and the sharing of the gospel with people in our community, the church kept growing, and at one point, this church was the fastest growing Presbyterian Church in America. My dad saw the need for a bigger church, and in 1973 they had the first service in this sanctuary. Five years later, the first service was broadcast on television and from there we had the development of Coral Ridge Ministries, The Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington, D.C., and Reclaiming America for Christ. Not to mention that Westminster Academy and Knox Seminary were established, as well.
He has always been a visionary—he can see things from 30,000 feet. I know the Lord blessed him with that ability so he could accomplish great things for His kingdom. I saw a clip of a video from 1971 where my dad said, “We can reach the world for Christ through radio, cassettes and ways we have no idea about it.” Just think—back then we had no idea about the internet, computers, etc.
He was always thinking ahead. Even this past December before he got sick, he had plans of starting a college. As long as the Lord gave him strength, my dad was going to continue to serve him with all of his heart, mind and soul. Not only was he focused on getting the gospel out to as many people as possible, he was concerned about the congregation’s needs. That is why he started and supported the Concert Series, the Children’s Ministry, the softball league, etc. He could see the “whole” picture.
There are all kinds of wonderful things I could say about my dad, but one that stands out is his fine example. He “walked the talk” and “practiced what he preached.” I think about the saying he would quote quite frequently, “Only one life ‘twill soon be passed. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” His work is lasting—it will go on and on and make a difference for eternity.
With that said, today I am formally announcing the retirement of my dad as the senior minister of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He loved his work and ya’ll. I can remember him saying that he missed all of this when he was away during the summers. I know he is grateful for the 48 years he was able to serve here. I would ask him regularly if he was still happy working or if he wanted to retire. He always said he wanted to keep working, that he didn’t want to quit, and that he was very happy. I always told him I thought that was great and if the day ever came when it was too hard or he felt he wasn’t able to keep up the pace, to let me know and I would try to help him retire or do what he thought was best.
I think we all thought he would live forever and things would never change. That makes me think back to a sermon of Dr. Lamerson’s. He was talking about Moses who was 80 years old when the Lord asked him to lead the people out of Egypt. He went on to say that people would ask him when he thought my dad would retire or what was the church going to do when my dad retired, and he would tell them, “If Moses is any example, Dr. Kennedy isn’t 80 so we have at least another good 40 years.”
Believe you me, I thought this too. Even when he got his pacemaker, I told him he was good for at least another 20 years. Well, the Lord had different plans and we know that His ways are perfect.
So if you’re sitting there thinking and wondering what is next for the church—don’t worry. The long range planning committee and the session have all of this under consideration and have been working to ensure the church continues to grow and thrive.
But, it’s our turn now. My dad has done his part, he has taught us well, and he would expect us to “take the ball and run with it.” In the New Testament it tells us “to whom much has been given, much will be required.” We all have been given “much” and “much is required” right now. I hope you will support the church now more than ever.
As a reminder, when we joined the church we made several vows. One of them was to support the church in its worship and its work. Please pray for the church, support it financially, be here in person and volunteer to be involved. This is your opportunity to do something for Christ that will last.
Change is going to happen. It’s not going to be the same as when my dad was here. With all the change going on, there’s bound to be something you’re not going to like. Pray about it, leave it in the Lord’s hands and don’t start gossiping and spreading negative messages around to other members of the congregation. This is not uplifting to anyone and it certainly isn’t helping the church through this time of transition.
This won’t be easy for any of us. However, we all need to “buck up” and stand in the gap. This is a perfect time for the devil to try to discourage us and get this church off track. The Lord has great things in store for our church, and I would hope that every one of you would be excited to see it.
Paul said, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” I believe my dad always pressed towards that prize and when he steps into glory, he is going to meet Jesus who will welcome him and say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” Now it’s our turn to run the race and press toward the prize. We can cross the finish line and hear “well done, thou good and faithful servant.”