He's an Amish bishop who's made peace with his lifelong stutter
David Kline stands in his kitchen reciting scripture from his Amish hymnal. He’s a bishop in the old order Amish church. At 78, he’s been preaching for nearly 30 years. But first, he had to confront a fear of public speaking he’d developed because of his stutter.
“The more I spoke in front of people the better it got. And I finally got to the point where I can get up and have no fear of stuttering even though it's still there, but I have no fear that I cannot begin speaking,” Kline said.
Stuttering is a speech condition that affects about three million Americans, leading some people to experience low self-worth or challenges communicating with others.
For Kline, the anticipation to get up and speak at church is scarier than the act. Speaking at farming conferences for years prior also helped him relax.
Raised on the farm
Kline was born in a farmhouse behind his home in Fredericksburg, Ohio, about 10 miles south of Wooster.
“This farm has been in my family since 1918, and it’s always been a working farm. The farm has always supported us,” Kline said.
He brought his bride, Elsie, to this farm where they raised five children, all of whom are also farmers.
One of the few times he lived away from the farm was when he attended the Bogue Institute for Stammerers in Indianapolis when he was 16 years old. It was a six-week speech correction school that closed in 1970. The school taught self-confidence, something he struggled with due to the stutter, he said.
“There’s a whole table of people somewhere, ‘OK, let’s have introductions.’ It comes down the line. It’s like a firing squad, you know your time’s coming. And I take a deep breath, fill up, ‘I’m David Kline,’ because d’s, they’ve been always been difficult for me,” Kline said.
He learned to take a deep breath, fill his lungs full of air and begin talking without stopping.
Kline was drafted during the Vietnam War, passed the oral test and worked at Marymount Hospital in Garfield Heights for two years. It was easier to get the words out when speaking English to staff and patients because he learned how to correct his stutter in English, he said. Switching between dialects at home was hard and brought back the stutter at times. He spoke English, Pennsylvania Dutch and High German, a dialect from Alsace Germany.
After Kline and Elsie got married, they moved from Garfield Heights to the farm in 1968.
“When we started going with each other, she was very loving and understanding of my speech handicap," Kline said.
That helped with his confidence, he added.
But what really changed “is when I learned to laugh at myself. And that was very, very difficult. And the other was when I actually could thank God for my handicap,” Kline said.
He faced his fear
At a 2015 religious conference in Indiana, Kline was invited to talk about his life as an Amish farmer. Kline told the audience he’s been publishing a farming magazine for 14 years.
He’s also written four books on farming.
At his home, he has a certificate from the College of Wooster, where he has spoken many times. Kline was given an honorary doctorate of letters for his writings.
The stuttering was mostly gone by the time he started speaking publicly, he said.
“I got to a point where I’d stutter a little bit, but the audience were always so kind.”
At church services, he can substitute words while reading scripture out loud, he added. But it’s still hard to read all the way through a prayer without stuttering.
“I still have that fear way, way back in my conscious," Kline said, and cited a Bible passage about God allowing a stammerer to speak clearly.
"Sometimes I’m afraid that [God will] say, 'That’s enough. You’ll stutter again now,’" Kline said.
But stutter or not, Kline plans to keep speaking. While his talks on farming are lessening with age, preaching at church continues. He’s showing those around him that when fear creeps in, he won't stay quiet.