Kenneth Lewis Hornby — a pastor, mentor, mutual confidant, fishing partner, flying buddy and friend who was closer than a brother — died early this morning after an extended battle with cancer.
Although he was my best friend, Ken and I had a relationship that transcended mere friendship.
We were so opposite, but so complementary, that it was sometimes scary how God nonetheless knit us together. Ken taught me heart, while I taught him rock. We irrevocably changed each other.
Last summer, I felt the Lord gently tell me that Ken was going to die. When we met a couple of days later for breakfast, Ken on his own initiative – and without me mentioning anything – said God showed him in a recent dream to prepare for an prolonged, painful death.
I knew in my spirit that Ken was right. As we continued to talk that morning about his own inner – and very human – struggles, I quietly resolved to be a pillar of support for him in the coming months.
Although Ken had previously battled cancer, including two major surgeries, his long-term prospects until then had been hopeful.
Up to that point, we had been actively planning to open a pastoral counseling practice together under Fulcrum Ministries. He also had quietly put his home on the market after deciding to leave New Covenant Fellowship in Manassas (where Ken had been a co-pastor and elder for many years) because the other elders had refused his pleas to correct newly discovered ethical and financial improprieties within their own ranks – although he’d not yet revealed his intentions to the church or its remaining leadership. His hope was to start a new church in Richmond that eventually would tie into the network of churches I was helping to develop. We had been expectantly discussing how to team up and nurture those emerging churches together.
Soon after our fateful breakfast together, however, Ken was placed under a gag order by the senior pastor in his Manassas church – who ordered him under various threats to not talk to me. I had started to expose some startling improprieties that I was discovering regarding that pastor, after he repeatedly refused all meetings to discuss them in private. Much to that pastor’s chagrin, Ken had been concurrently providing confirming evidence and other information that he had also uncovered – wholly independent of me – about those same (and other) improprieties.
Despite the gag order, Ken and I would continue to steal away to talk, often clandestinely over periodic meals at the local IHOP. When that wasn’t possible, he’d pass information along through mutual friends. Ken had that twinkle in his eye – which his close friends knew all-to-well – over the subversiveness of it all! Ken may have been gentle and soft spoken, but he certainly was no push over.
As summer started drawing to a close, Ken confided in me that some of his cancer related symptoms had begun to re-emerge. He was scared, but his fear wasn’t so much over the cancer. Rather, he didn’t feel he was at a place of closure on some big issues he was facing.
According to Ken, those unresolved issues involved the relationships and obligations of his life:
- As a husband and provider who had sacrificially chosen ministry over financial wealth;
- As an elder and co-pastor in a church where he had uncovered profound improprieties that had unknowingly developed under his tenure regarding the senior pastor, which still needed to be addressed;
- And as a man unexpectedly facing threats by that senior pastor, who Ken considered to be a friend but who now was trying to extort Ken – including threats to cut off his vitally needed health insurance – in a desperate attempt to silence Ken on those emerging improprieties.
These issues tore at Ken’s heart because of the love and compassion he felt, more deeply than any man I ever met, towards those whom God had brought into his life – including some who were abusing his friendship but towards whom he nonetheless maintained and genuinely felt perfect graciousness.
Ken and I had deeply personal conversations as he struggled with those issues. His anguish was profound, while his love and grace were unfailing – even towards those who kept exploiting his gentle and giving spirit. In fact, it was Ken’s love and grace over the years that saw me through a number of situations that otherwise would have, quite literally, killed me. Ken could see through the issues in my own life when I was facing very dark times, and it was Ken’s love and grace that eventually unleashed a profound new dimension of ministry in me a couple of years ago.
I would not be in ministry today if it weren’t for Ken.
As Ken’s cancer returned and began ravaging his body, my continual prayer was that Ken could find closure on the issues that were causing him such intense anguish so he could then fall into the Lord’s final embrace with peace and dignity. I also prayed that God would protect Ken, given his deeply empathetic nature, as others projected their anxieties and fears onto him with their “prophetic” but fleshy words of pending recovery from cancer.
It was hard to stand by silently, but I knew that’s what Ken wanted.
The last time I saw Ken was a couple of weeks ago. We talked about all of the anxiety that others were projecting on him. He teared up and said they didn’t understand faith, but that it was OK. The tears were not for himself, but arose from his compassion for those who didn’t yet appreciate that faith presumes no outcome rooted in our own wishes, but simply and wholly trusts in God’s goodness.
Always graceful. Always loving. Always bearing the burden of others even at his own cost.
I don’t know if Ken found the closure he needed. But I know this: He has now found final peace.
My heart has a gaping hole that will always miss Ken.
I will miss our times together . . .
. . . fishing on the Occoquan in his dilapidated jon boat on cool summer evenings;
. . . holding on for dear life as Ken tried to fly my plane (he loved to take the yoke, but had no gift for it!) and we went bobbing and weaving through the air like crazy men (while some poor air traffic controller likely stared at his radar screen in horror) with Ken grinning from ear to ear;
. . . teaming up to counsel those who needed to hear from God and watching Ken masterfully and compassionately facilitate getting them to health and healing; and
. . . the gleam of delight in his eyes as I told him last summer that I had fallen in love with the woman I met because of him, and how his face lit up with joy when we both told him of our engagement just a few weeks before he died.
It was hard coming to terms with Ken’s impending death and the turmoil he was still facing as he sought closure while also fighting hard – so very, very hard because of his intense love for others – to hold onto life against the cancer that was destroying his body.
Although Ken died a hard death, he accepted with dignity his final task of showing others that God’s grace is sufficient even when we are bearing the pain and suffering – as to which God never promised to exempt us – of a broken body and a fallen world.
It is OK to grieve, and I’ve cried several times already this morning at Ken’s passing. But my spirit takes comfort in the mercy of the Father, who now has taken Ken into His final embrace.
Some will now try to take his spiritual mantle to hide their own sins, but they will be lesser men for it.
To Ken – my friend, my pastor and the one who taught me to love again and to live again when I thought all was lost – God’s speed. Thank you for a life well lived, and that will now live on through those who truly understood the uncompromising fierceness of your gentle grace and love.
~ Jim Wright
Here’s a very moving tribute to Ken by a mutual friend: It’s Been A Long Night and I Am Weary.
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