By Laurel Busby
When the Reverend Kenneth Davis was born in Jamaica, his grandmother prayed to God that he would become a preacher. At 7 years old, he knew for himself what he wanted to do.
“I knew that I was going to be a pastor,” said Davis, who replaces retired Wally Mees as the new minister at Palisades Lutheran Church. “I knew I had a call of God on my life.”
That call has remained steadfast for him. In 1970, also when he was 7, his family moved to Los Angeles, where he went to church, attended local schools, and eventually studied both theology and theater arts at Loyola Marymount University. During his freshman year, he became a preacher for the Pentecostal/Charismatic denomination—the church of his childhood. However, when he attended Yale Divinity School for his master’s degree, he changed his denomination to Lutheran as the Pentecostal Church doesn’t support Yale’s program.
His Yale advisor was Lutheran, and Davis felt drawn to the Lutheran focus on grace. “We don’t become children of God. We are not followers because of something we have done, but instead because of something that God has done for us,” Davis said. “The Pentecostal Church was really focused on works—what I did to earn what I’m receiving from God. The reality is there is nothing I can do to twist God’s arm . . . It’s by grace that we are saved.”
After graduating from Yale in 1995, Davis became an associate pastor at a Scottsdale (Arizona) church, then moved back to California to spend six years as the senior pastor at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Claremont. However, eight years ago, he stepped down to an associate pastor position with Christ the King Lutheran Church in Fallbrook (near Temecula). His wife had recently died of breast cancer, and the couple had three daughters who needed his attention. He thought the demands of leading the church would conflict with the needs of fatherhood.
“The kids were really young,” Davis said. “But now that they’re much older and more self-sufficient,” it’s possible to become a senior pastor again. He proudly noted that his oldest, Kennadi, 18, has a 4.3 grade point average and will graduate this year from the International Baccalaureate program at Great Oak High School in Temecula. His twin daughters Cassadi and Camryn, 14, have transferred to Palisades High, which like Great Oak is a highly rated school.
“Education is really important to me,” noted Davis, who also said it was important to his parents, who moved to the United States so that all five of their children could get an education. In Jamaica at the time, only elementary school students were offered free public educations. With five children, the family would have had to pick which of their children they could afford to finance through middle school and high school.
Instead, Davis went through the Los Angeles school system, starting at South Park Elementary and finishing at Dorsey High School. He has an older sister, Olive, who teaches in the business department at UC Berkeley, and three older brothers: Dorrick (a retired police officer who used to patrol the Palisades), Delroy (a retired postal service worker), and Charles, better known to baseball fans as “Chili,” who hit 350 home runs during an 18-year career with five teams, including the San Francisco Giants and the California Angels.
Chili’s major league ambitions weren’t always assured, Davis said. In fact, his brother first attended Fremont High School, but the school’s baseball coach said he “wasn’t good enough to make the team.” Charles, now a batting coach for the Boston Red Sox, came home in tears, and his father signed a form so his son could transfer to Dorsey, where he became a standout catcher on his way to being discovered and succeeding as a major league All-Star outfielder and designated hitter.
Reverend Davis is also an athlete, but tennis is his sport. He earned a partial tennis scholarship to LMU, and he has loved playing against Palisadians since he moved to the Alphabet Streets neighborhood. He also has enjoyed getting to know his small, but mighty congregation. He chose his first day at the church—January 15—for a special reason.
“I selected that date because it is the actual birthdate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Davis said. “It’s significant for me.” He used King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to inform his sermon, which included inspiring his congregation to dream about reaching out to the community. “Now the congregation is inwardly focused. My understanding of God is missionary focused—toward people who are empty, toward people who are poor and oppressed, toward people who haven’t found meaning in life.”
The idea, Davis said, is to fill up on inspiration at the church and then send that inspiration out into the world. He has even put an Under Construction sign out at the church, because he considers it to be in a rebuilding phase. He notes that the current congregation is “a great group of people,” but also a “well-kept secret” that he doesn’t want to be a secret anymore. He estimated that about 60-70 parishioners attend services each week.
The challenge of growing the church is part of what attracted him to take the position, and he’s already been busy not only in the church but also in the wider community. He joined the Palisades Optimist Club and also has connected with Theatre Palisades. He took his youngest girls to see Picnic, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He said he still has the acting bug and would one day like to act in a Theatre Palisades production. He also has been visiting various other local organizations and would like to connect with the high school.
“I’m in town, I’m available and I’d like to get to know people,”Davis said.“I’m a caring, compassionate pastor who in my preaching attempts to connect our heads and our hearts together. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. If you give us a chance and come and worship with us, you will experience a loving environment that comforts and challenges you in your faith walk.”