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Bishop George Dallas McKinney, founder of St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ, dies at 88

(RNS) — Bishop George Dallas McKinney, who has been regarded as a stalwart in San Diego’s Black religious community, has died. He was 88.

The Church of God in Christ announced McKinney’s death on Saturday (March 20).

McKinney, the son of a sharecropper who was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, founded St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ in 1962 along with his late wife, Jean C. McKinney. The couple raised five sons, all who pursued church work. 

As bishop, George Dallas McKinney oversaw about 40 Church of God in Christ congregations across Southern California, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. McKinney also served on the general board of the Church of God in Christ.

The cause of death was heart and kidney conditions, the newspaper reported.

“I’m devastated. I’m numb. So many emotions rush me right now,” his son Glenn McKinney said during a virtual service honoring his father on Sunday. “I’m glad and thankful to God that he gave me a father like Bishop George Dallas McKinney.”

“I’m forever grateful to his legacy, to his memory, to who he was to so many,” he added

McKinney was the ninth of 14 children who “credited his parents for instilling lifelong healthy values, particularly two things: good religion and good education,” according to a San Diego State University oral history project interview with McKinney.

He was the valedictorian of his class at Booker T. Washington High School in Arkansas and graduated magna cum laude from Arkansas State University. McKinney went on to attend Oberlin College, where he graduated with a master’s degree in systematic theology. He also studied social work at the University of Michigan and earned a doctorate from the California Graduate School of Theology.

While at Oberlin, McKinney said he experienced an “awareness” during prayer time in his dorm room, telling him “your work will be in California,” he said during his oral history interview. 

“Had never been to California, didn’t have no intentions of coming here. But I said that experience was so clear, that I never doubted that it was the leading of the Lord ,” McKinney said.

“In our tradition, we believe that people can be led of God in their major decisions, and that’s what I’d been conditioned to believe, and I sensed that voice that ‘your work will be in California,’” he added.

Before coming to California, McKinney worked as a chaplain at a state mental hospital and a probation officer with the juvenile probation department in Toledo, Ohio.

In starting St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ, McKinney said, his intent was “to be a lighthouse in the community, teaching and equipping people to live abundantly,” according to San Diego State University.

As St. Stephens expanded, it included a Christian school and senior housing.

Throughout the years, McKinney has addressed a number of problems facing African Americans, such as fatherlessness, violence, drug abuse and racism.

In a 2020 essay he wrote for The San Diego Union-Tribune, McKinney said: “The sin of racism must be exposed and uprooted wherever it’s found — in the criminal justice system, in the church, in the government, and in all the social institutions that bind our community together.”

McKinney is survived by his wife, Barbara; his sons; 15 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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