The Right Rev. Theodore Larry Kirkland Sr. will soon enter a new phase of his 55-year ministry as a preacher of the gospel. Members of the Fifth Episcopal District saluted his accomplishments recently during the district’s Mid-Year Convocation at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton Hotel.
“I feel that as far as success is concerned, my ministry has been very rewarding and successful. I don’t mean monetarily rewarding because most ministers are not rich,” Kirkland said.
“When I say rewarding, [it means] to see folks change their lives, to see people converted. It’s just simply an amazing feeling, as I end my active ministry. It makes me feel great.”
Kirkland currently serves as the presiding prelate of the Fifth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which includes 14 western and coastal states. However, due to the denomination’s mandatory retirement age, the bishop will officially retire in July 2016 at the AME Church’s general conference.
When appointed as pastor of Brookins Community AME Church in Los Angeles by the late Bishop H. Hartford Brookins in 1977, Kirkland had a congregation of eight members borrowed from First AME Church. But, by the time he was elected the 114th bishop of the AME Church in 1996, more than 8,000 members were on the rolls.
“One of my most memorable moments is my ministry at Brookins. I know it wasn’t me that caused it to grow. It was the power of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I’m very rewarded for that in so many ways. It was just an outstanding moment in my life,” Kirkland recalled.
In October 2015, the Southern California Conference approved a resolution to change the name of the church to Brookins-Kirkland Community AME.
As a bishop, Kirkland served four years in Central Africa in the 17th District, then as Ecumenical Officer and president of the Council of Bishops.
“Bishop Kirkland is a son of the Fifth Episcopal District in Southern California,” the Rev. John Cager of Ward AME said. “He had the most successes as pastor in Southern California.”
Cager is the president of the AME Ministerial Alliance, which oversees 56 AME churches in Southern California from Fresno to Tijuana.
“As bishop, he has overseen the AME’s return to excellence and high achievement, not just in the Fifth district, but throughout Southern California,” Cager added. “There has been a rebirth in spirituality, a seriousness in ministry.”
Brookins AME’s socio-political presence grew as Kirkland advised mayors, governors and national leaders on issues such as voter registration, police brutality, and economic empowerment.
With spiritual community leaders of the civil rights era retiring throughout Los Angeles and the nation—including Rev. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray, Rev. James Lawson and Kirkland, locally—it’s hoped that the torch is passed and the Black church will continue to have a powerful role in the Black society.
“We are seeing the end of an era, and we hope the next generation will pass on this legacy,” Cager said. “Kirkland walked with Dr. King and he has impressed our pastors. Let’s be about something; let’s speak truth to power. We’re not going to put up with mass incarceration. We’re not going to put up with being victims of economic oligarchy.”
“We need to speak up and act up so that pharaoh will act right toward God’s people,” said Cager.
“There is a crisis in the spiritual community right now,” Cager added. “Nowadays we too often see personality ministries—ministries that place pastors ahead of Jesus.”
Although retiring as bishop, Kirkland insists that he is not retiring from preaching. His interests include creating an international ministry to aid villages in Africa and starting a school of ministry to help young pastors with church growth and development.
“I feel like, as I get ready to retire or whenever the Lord calls me home, I did all I could, and I want to thank the church for helping me,” said the bishop.
“I want to thank God for my ministry, and I thank God for the people that have supported my ministry and served with me. I didn’t do that by myself. People came and invested their money, their time, and their talents.”
“I hope to be remembered as a person who is serious about his ministry; that I served the church and worked hard to make the lives of others better.”