The immigration and refugee advocacy community has lost a co-laborer in the field with the untimely death of the Reverend Kelly S. Allen on June 5.
Allen, pastor and head of staff of University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas, was pronounced brain dead at 9:30 a.m. after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke Friday afternoon.
“The whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is holding University Presbyterian Church and Kelly’s family in prayer,” said the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). “Our hearts are broken and our souls are wounded at this great loss. Kelly was such a strong witness for all we hold dear as Presbyterians. Her faith knew no depths. Her fear knew no obstacles. The life she lived was full of the grace of God that she generously shared with all of us.”
Allen, 50, stood almost two years ago this month as a candidate for Moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014). She expressed a deep sense of call to “build community among strangers,” and made a commitment to that in her life and ministry.
“Changing neighborhoods, expanding variations of faith traditions, shared sidewalks with people whose pockets do not contain enough for the bus ride home—can we see these as invitations to new relationships and new discoveries, enriching to the church and to our lives of faith?” she wrote in the Moderator candidates’ handbook two years ago. “Most of all, can we see in these encounters an expressions of the Kingdom of God?”
Allen was doing work around immigration at Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly in Hunt, Texas, when she became ill. She was a staunch advocate for justice for immigrants and refugees, and was, among other things, a leader in the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, a network of community and faith organizations that formed in summer 2014 in response to the large number of refugees arriving in Texas from Central America.
“For Kelly Allen, ‘now’ was always the right time to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God,” said Sallie Watson, general presbyter of Mission Presbytery in San Antonio. “She was always the one to ask the awkward but necessary question, to rib whoever needed ribbing, and to love equally and extravagantly. We will carry on the work of justice, kindness, and humility without her, but only because she would not let us do any less.”
Teresa Waggener, the PC(USA)’s manager of immigration legal issues, shared similar feelings. “I will miss her spirit and life as a partner in ministry. Her passion and compassion have set in motion many critical efforts to treat asylum-seekers with the dignity and protection they deserve.”
Allen studied at Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. (BA); Columbia Theological Seminary (M.Div.); and University of Birmingham, UK (MA). She had published in the Presbyterian Outlook, Journal for Preachers, Review of Faith and International Affairs, and she authored the small group manual for Mission Presbytery’s Multicultural Youth Conference. She had served as an adjunct faculty instructor, Eden Theological Seminary (UCC); as a member of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team; as a volunteer mediator in Buckinghamshire, UK; and on the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy’s Committee on Ministry, the Education and Nurture Committee; and the Latin American Task Force.
Allen leaves husband, John Rezentes, and children Clare and David. She also is survived by her mother and brother. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, June 11, at 11 a.m. at Trinity University’s Parker Chapel. A reception will follow in University Presbyterian Church’s Center for Education.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Interfaith Welcome Coalition in Allen’s memory. Please make checks payable to “UPC” with “IWC-Kelly Allen” in the memo line. Donation can be mailed to the church.