Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Virgin Voyage Into the Blogosphere

I'm not sure how to christen properly this virgin voyage into the blogosphere, except to say that I've been noodling for some time now on entering the communal discourse that a blog affords.

I am presently emerging from a complex pastoral experience that defies easy interpretation, and requires the input of my larger community to make sense.

I recently resigned the senior pastoral position at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, a big-steeple fellowship in the rigors of a congregational culture change at the heart of our 8th largest American city.

Five years ago, I followed a noted minister of 42 years in this pulpit, and faced all the dangers that such a transition entails. It is an axiom of church life that ministers of such lifelong tenures simply do not let go of their pastoral position and platform, and that such leadership transitions on the whole are difficult, at best.

In the technical parlance of our field, the succeeding minister in such a situation is called an "unintentional interim." There was no misunderstanding of this challenge coming in. We waded in, eyes wide open.

That alone, would have been daunting enough. But, there is more.

Trinity was an almost exclusively Anglo congregation in at the heart of a city of more than 700,000 Latinos. For years, she had been in numerical decline, as young, middle class families moved further and further out into the suburban regions of our city. Even a casual observer of the demographic context would have concluded that, in order to maintain a dynamic ministry in San Antonio, Trinity had to move from a monocultural to a multicultural constituency. That is, we had to become a family of faith that looked like God's great family at large in San Antonio: brown and black as well as white, class inclusive as well as affluent, interdenominational as well as Baptist. In short, just as all the major freeways in San Antonio converged at our church's physical location, so all the defining and difficult demographic indicators in American social life came to bear on our church's spiritual self-identity.

In the great cosmic Kitchen of the Lord, God pitched us off in the middle of big diverse metropolitan melting pot.

And then proceeded to stir the stew.

It is this concoction of vulnerability and possibility that I want to publicly digest in this space over the coming months.

I look forward to your input.

About Charles Foster Johnson

Charlie Johnson is a pastor on sabbatical, currently teaching at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia.

His pastorate took him through a number of small churches in Kentucky and Mississippi, several worldwide mission tours, and thirteen years at Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas. Most recently, Charlie was pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas from 2001 - 2006.

Hailing from a small city in south Alabama, Johnson was greatly influenced by racial and social justice issues brought to focus by the 60’s civil rights demonstrations. Inspired to take an active role in these issues he planned to become a lawyer, but was called to the ministry in the summer of 1977 in a Washington D.C. ghetto.

While in college that summer, Johnson traveled to the nation’s capital and was walking through a housing project. While interacting with children on the street, he saw inspiring love in the eyes of these young people living in abject poverty.

“In the midst of such hopelessness just a few blocks from our nation’s Capitol, those children’s faces bore the likeness of God!” Johnson remembers. “Their sterling capacities for love inspired me beyond description. I knew beyond doubt that the transmission of sublime love I received from these children would comprise my life’s work.”

Johnson regularly invites rabbis, priests, and ministers from all religions to lead services at the churches he pastors, and accepts invitations to reciprocate. The importance of these initiatives were never more apparent than in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, when he joined ministers of all faiths to publicly urged the community to resist demonizing Muslims.

Commenting on his approach to the ministry, Johnson states that, “Christians have a sacred responsibility to build bridges of understanding with other religious and ethnic groups. The only people Jesus condemned were those who condemned others.”

Johnson is a regular critic of the politics of exclusion being used by the Southern Baptist Convention to stifle freedom of thought in Baptist seminaries, and the denial of women’s roles in church leadership.

Rev. Johnson holds the traditional Baptist positions of separation of church and state, but does not believe that ministers should avoid public service. He readily accepts leadership roles in the community, and served on the San Antonio Mayor’s Commission on Integrity and Trust in City Government, at the request of Mayor Ed Garza.

Charlie is married to Jana Powers McCormick. They have three children. Chad (28) is married to Mary Beth Lancaster of Oklahoma and is managing a ranch in Honey Grove, TX. Cliff (26) is serving in the Army Corps of Engineers in Baghdad, Iraq. Chris Anne (22) is a veterinary assistant in San Antonio.

In addition to a voracious reading appetite, Charlie enjoys hunting, barbecuing, or puttering around the family ranch in his 1989 Ford pickup.