GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Ed Dobson, former senior pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, passed away on Saturday, December 26, after living with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, since 2000.
Dobson was well-known in religious circles throughout the U.S. He rose to prominence in the 1980s while he served in a leadership role with the Moral Majority, the evangelical political organization led by Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Dobson became pastor at Calvary Church in 1987, and his national profile grew in 1993 when he was named Pastor of the Year by the Moody Bible Institute.
As senior pastor at Calvary, Dobson often spoke to congregations of up to 5,000 people. His life, particularly living with hope while living with ALS, has been chronicled in “Ed’s Story,” a seven-film series produced by the non-profit Flannel.
Mark Baas, creative director for the series, told FOX 17 it was remarkable to witness Dobson's unwavering character while the series was filmed over five years. “Ed and Lorna wanted to create this film series to give hope to the hopeless,” said Baas. "They wanted to share their story as they wrestled through ALS, so that other people could be inspired."
“To see that transformation in him physically but to hear from him, that the same person, the same character, the same fortitude remained in him, was a remarkable thing to watch over time.”
Rob Bell, author and founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, told FOX 17 he cherishes the years Dobson taught and mentored him.
“He absolutely loved to laugh,” said Bell. “Nothing brought him more joy than just telling you a story about somebody he’d met and what they had told him about their growth and their transformation.”
Bell remarked that Dobson’s transformation within himself is something he admires most. “He was more and more and more tuned in to the actual Jesus message, which is how do you live in the world with grace and compassion and courage, how do you treat your neighbor, how do you treat your enemy?" said Bell.
“You can see there’s a very clear movement in his teaching to more openness, more embrace of the other, more diversity, more love. And that’s the legacy.”
Bell believes an important part of Dobson’s legacy is his leadership through having lived as a student first and having challenged group think. “He had an element of a rebel in him, like there is a system, there is a group think, there is a way things are done, and it’s not always the best, most healthy way, and there have to be people who challenge conventions.”
“[Dobson] was a prophet and a rebel and a performance artist and a guerrilla preacher,” said Bell. “He also was a thorn in the side of complacency and the status quo.”
Remembering times he witnessed Bell at work, living what he preached, Bell said, “You can be the legendary Ed Dobson, and you’re still working to figure out how much can I give.”
“I watched him just try to figure all that out, which is what we’re all trying to figure out: work, family, career, ambition, play, rest, overtime,” said Bell. “Everybody is trying to figure out how you give yourself to the world in a sustainable, enduring way. That’s one of the greatest gifts he gave me: never stop working it out.”
Dobson’s passing was noted Monday by current Calvarys senior pastor Jim Samra in a Facebook post to the congregation. The funeral will be held Thursday, December 31, at 11:00 a.m. in the Calvary Church sanctuary, with a private burial following.
Samra also says there will be no visitation prior to the funeral nor any reception following the service. The family has requested privacy and asks that people refrain from contacting them directly. Many people continue to post their condolences, memories, and thanks to Dobson online, including on the Facebook page, Ed's Story.
For now we will leave you with an excerpt of Dobson's words from the first short film of "Ed's Story," titled, “It Ain’t Over:”
“Over the years I have dealt with all sorts of people in all sorts of circumstances, and my joy has been to give them a sense of hope.”