Ending My Call

March 9, 2015

Dear members and friends of St Timothy,

This is one of the most difficult letters I have had to write, but I am writing to announce that I will be ending my call at St Timothy and have accepted a new call in Kingston, NY. My final Sunday will be Sunday April 12th with my final act as pastor of St Timothy on April 18th. This was not an easy or rash decision and called for a lot of prayer and discernment over the last few weeks.

Let me first answer the question why. Kingston, NY is located approximately 40 minutes away from my parents, 15 minutes away from where Patty and I went to college, and 1.5hrs away from Patty’s family. As many know, my mother has muscular sclerosis and my father is getting ready to retire at the end of next year. For the last few years, my parents have needed a bit more help each time I visited. It has been difficult these last few years being 6hrs away and the primary caretaker for both of them. Being in such close proximity will help out tremendously as they age and as their need for more care grows. This was the heaviest weight in my decision making process.

The second reason was that it has been difficult to watch this last year as Patty came home each night from a job that has not been fulfilling. Last year, she was laid off from a teaching position where she felt fulfilled and received joy from teaching. It was a shock when she was told about the possibility of being laid off. When it happened, Patty was very upset. This was the second heaviest weight while making the decision.

The final reason was the financial situation at St Timothy. It has been widely known that we have been at a tipping point when it came to keeping a pastor or making some very tough decisions about the direction of St Timothy. I have been vocal in the need for St Timothy to be a presence in Geneseo and the surrounding areas and to remain an active proclaimer of Christ’s grace in the area. St Timothy is needed in Livingston County. The leadership knew that tougher decisions would have to be considered in the near future. Stepping aside will give the congregation a chance to recoup, refocus, and continue to be a presence and worshipping center in the community. You are needed here. While not the heaviest weight, it was one of the items considered.

I want to say that I have truly been blessed these last 10+ years. We have done amazing things together to help our community, help the wider church, and to help our neighbors. I have grown to love each and every one of you throughout my time and trust me when I say it has been an incredibly difficult few weeks. I am excited about the new call and truly believe I have gifts that they can use, but I am leaving an incredible congregation that I care deeply about. I love you as a congregation and you have been such a joy in my life. You have incredible leadership, a warm and inviting hospitality, and you have welcomed Patty and me into your lives. Thank you for these last 10+ years. You will continue to be in my prayers and in my heart. I will carry you with me.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Justin Johnson

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Where do We Need Healing?

Today is Reformation Day. I asked the congregation in the sermon this morning, where does the church or the nation need a reformation? Where does it need repentance (the first idea in the 95 theses)?

These were the thoughts in no order.

Note: They reflect individuals’ thoughts rather than the church as a whole.

  • We need to hold our institutions accountable when they don’t reflect our values.
  • We need to take time in our lives to help others who are not in our immediate circle and understand other’s needs.
  • We need to be willing to take our worship, word, and sacrament out of the building and into the world, but how?
  • Let us make marriage more sacred and lasting.
  • No more us and them (this was drawn symbolically rather than stated)
  • Stop negative focus and proclaim the joy
  • Free from the bonds of materialism, bigotry, and from Satan’s clutches
  • Microworship! Throughout the day
  • Be more willing to speak to people you don’t know well. Be willing to share news with the congregation.
  • Return to Scripture- Bible based
  • Allow prayer everywhere
  • Perhaps we can learn a little from the message of Book of Mormon, even though it was a gross musical
  • More ecumenical cooperation in addressing justice issues. Instead of all our separate organizations. Come together for a bigger impact.
  • I would like to see all humanity believing in God. Knowing he is a loving and forgiving God who is always loving and supporting all of us
  • We need to get the church back into schools to reach young people so they are not shunned for their beliefs
  • Reach out- Out Reach
  • We need a reformation to love and respect ourselves and others
  • (Specific to St Timothy) We need more modern and lively music. Make the 10:15 service more contemporary.
  • (Specific to St Timothy) We need newer hymns to draw in younger people (said 3 times on the same paper)
  • All are welcome at the table
  • We need to look more at the “nones” and less at the numbers, dollars, and majority/minority statistics
  • Acceptance of all faiths, people, and nations
  • We need to reach out to all our brothers and sisters and invite them to join us at the cross.
  • Reach out to all nationalities and the LGBT communities
  • World peace, social justice, and serve the poor
  • Put God first in our nation and allow prayer in all public places
  • The world has adopted a secularism that is difficult to approach. Church is not “cool” when money and status are more important than God. God is more needed now than when I grew up. We have more poverty, more serious diseases, and the threat of more warfare. The world needs religion more than ever, but it is not aware of it. Our work is cut our for us.
  • Read Martin Luther’s works complete and discuss the history
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Sunday Sermon October 12, 2014

This week PJ takes a look at one of the more difficult texts in Matthew and goes to the source of all Lutheranism for an answer.

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What the Book of Mormon Taught Me About Evangelism

I saw the show, The Book of Mormon with my wife this weekend. It is crude, funny, and very silly at moments. Overall, there was a message, hidden within the humor, about mission and how even if one wants one thing, mission may be shaped from those you are serving.

What was more interesting to me was the Mormon response to the show. There is no way around it, the show makes fun of Mormons and The Book of Mormon. Since I am not Mormon, I don’t know if it is offensive, but it definitely pokes fun of the life of a Mormon and the theology.

This is what makes the response interesting. In the Playbill (the book given to you with the actors names), there were 3 ads from the Church of the Latter Day Saints all with the same message- “The book is better.” It was a simple message that was paid for by the larger church and actually runs in every city that the show goes to. It was direct, to the point, and didn’t criticize the show, but simply said there is an alternative.

After the show, there were 3 member of the Mormon church at each exit door, respectfully far from the exit, with cases and cases of the Book of Mormon. There wasn’t yelling or protest signs, but a simple request- “Would you like a copy of the Book? I am here if you would like to discuss what you just saw.” That’s it. It was polite, simple, and inviting. I didn’t partake in the information session because I am pretty secure in my Christianity and Lutheranhood, but those coming out were also respectful, simply saying “no” or asking if they were part of the show.

The lesson I saw was an important one when it came to evangelism. Evangelism is inviting and it is open to conversation, even if one is laughed at or questioned. Evangelism doesn’t protest, but meets people where they are. Evangelists can laugh at themselves because they are secure in their faith, questions don’t scare them away. It was a good lesson on how to talk to someone about faith.

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As part of my work at RIT, I am going to be blogging a bit more than before. I will share the blogs from RIT on this site too!

It is amazing what we will believe, isn’t it?

Doctor Who’s episode “Listen” on Saturday struck one of those childhood fears that for some reason we all believe in at one time or another- the monster under the bed.


When I was a child, I fully believed that my blanket was a special force field against the scary night monsters. As I read that sentence, I guess I should also say that I believed in scary night monsters. I would make sure the blanket was touching almost every part of me and as long as a portion of the blanket was touching, that body part was safe from the monsters. I would make sure my chin was touching the blanket before falling asleep. I figured if my chin was touching, my entire head would be covered by the force field that my magic blanket contained.

So, where did this belief and this fear come from? My parents never told me about monsters under the bed. My parents also didn’t tell me about the magical force field super protective blanket; it was something I had to discover :-). The belief and the fear was real though. They came from somewhere and entered into my childhood imagination. Perhaps it was a friend telling me or a movie or TV show. Something made me believe.

Yesterday’s sermon on John 3:16 was all about belief and the Greek word- pisteuó. I spoke about how this word has an element of relationship contained within the word. In order to believe in something we have to be in relationship to it somehow. In John 3:16, we are in relationship to the salvation of Christ and the grace that Jesus offers us. The relationship begins with Christ and is extended to us. As we are in relationship to Jesus our belief grows.

Think about all the beliefs we have or had in our lives. How many of those beliefs were true and panned out? How many let us down? I am fairly certain, as an adult that there is no monster under the bed nor is my blanket a magical forcefield against monsters, so that belief was completely wrong.

The belief I have in Jesus has also changed through the years. When I was child, Jesus was my best friend and a guy who I was told loved me. As a teen, I distanced myself from my relationship with Jesus, but there always seemed to be a piece missing in my life. As an adult, my relationship with Jesus grew and therefore the trust grew as well. It just took time for that belief to grow fully.

These fully grown, wrestled with, researched, and lived out beliefs are the best ones. They tend to be truer than any other beliefs. They tend to be stronger and more lived out. These are the beliefs that last a lifetime.

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A Renewal of Call- My 9-11 Story

On Sept 11, 2001, the US was shaken. Two planes into the Twin Towers, a plane in PA, and one plane into the Pentagon. It was one of those days that one will forever remember.

I remember that day for a different reason, as well. It was the day that I wanted to quit ministry.

Prior to the first plane hitting the first tower, I had an early morning appointment with my pastor at the time. My first full year of ministry was behind me and I was starting to notice more and more down days (I wouldn’t have my first full blown depression bout until a few years later). I was carrying more and more brokenness with me than ever before.

A Side Note

Some people may not understand that last line, so let me explain just as a side note. As pastors, we are often told ministry is hard because our main members are broken people who recognize their own brokenness and need for redemption and grace. No matter how many times we are told this in seminary, none of us truly believes it. Many seminarians have served on councils or committees and have seen some of the darker side of the church, so how bad can it be? It can be overwhelming at times. Pastors hear many intimate and secretive details in people’s lives and it is a major part of our calling as pastors. I recently did a reflection on my call and when it came to the line of “proclaim the forgiveness of sins,” I wrote that this part is the most secretive part of the call. This section is the trust that people have in their pastors with the darker parts that are not shown on Sunday morning. I won’t go into details, but I can assume most know what I am writing about, if you are a human being.

It is this dark part that pastors, while walking with congregations, carry with them and walk with their members through this darkness to shine the light of Christ. Some dark parts are lighter than others, but we carry them just as much and honor them just as much. The darkness of people, can sometimes get overwhelming and it is the reason why, I think, Jesus often walked off by himself to pray.

I Want Out

Back to the narrative. I, at this stage, did not have the emotional maturity or the self care principles I have now, so the brokenness of others was becoming so overwhelming that on Sept 11, 2001, I was in my pastor’s office saying “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

I was in tears in his office with this admission. I had worked so hard to get there. I had overcome many obstacles in seminary and at that moment, I thought I was failing. I not only doubted my call, but doubted my own abilities to live out that call. I was ready to pick up the phone to the Bishop to say, I want out what do I do?

As I left his office, preparing to do this, I heard and then saw the planes.

I started calling my loved ones, as everyone did on that day. I called people I knew in NY, since it was my hometown, to see if they were safe. I sat in shock looking at two buildings that I was just in a week ago, fall down and were now gone.

A Few Days Later

My partner in ministry at the time, was from NJ, so his shock was just as much as mine. We consoled each other, sat and listened to people who needed to talk, and opened the church for vigils. We took turns being there for people.

We also had a decision to make. We had our annual block party the Saturday after 9-11, were we going to go through with it? We chose to have it, but make it more somber, with more focus on worship and music, than bounce houses and hot dogs. I was to be the preacher at the Saturday service.

So, there I was standing in front of a group of people, some from our church and some from the neighborhood looking for comfort, and I still wanted out probably more than before. I was in serious doubt with my own abilities and for the first time, I was just going to get up and speak without notes without any idea of what I was going to say.

I cannot remember fully the sermon, but it was about the need for forgiveness and the need to pray. I know for a fact that I mentioned the need to pray for Osama Bin Laden and for those that wanted to do us harm because that will come up in just a second. I talked about my own connection to NYC and how hard it was to get the words out about forgiveness, but that is what we were called to do.

The Aftermath

After the service was over, I had a woman come up to me. The woman was not from the congregation, but was from the neighborhood. I don’t remember what she looked like, but I remembered what she said- “How dare you!” She didn’t say it, but screamed it inches from my face. “How dare you say I should pray for that goddamn Bin Laden. Who do you think you are?” It continued and continued and continued. It may have only been a few minutes, but in my mind it took much longer.

As I listened or half listened to the woman’s screams, I remember having a thought run through my head, “this is why I chose you.” Now I wouldn’t say God speaks directly with me or anything like that, but it was this nagging feeling that just pulled at me and the thought stayed there through the woman’s tirade.

“This is why I chose you.” *scream* “This is why I chose you.” *scream* “Love her and help her anger. This is why I chose you.”

After she was done. I simply said to her something like- I said what I said because I meant it, even though I didn’t want to hear it. I commiserated with her emotions and feelings and said at times I felt the same way, but this is why I was called to bring forgiveness and grace in the midst of a dark world.

I will be honest that that last part probably didn’t come from my mouth, but are more my feelings now. I did sit with her and we did pray for each other. Now, I recognized that it truly why I was called to do. In a way, the tragedy of 9-11, opened my eyes that light can always overcome darkness and that the word of healing and wholeness must always be proclaimed in the middle of hurt and pain. I was changed in many ways on 9-11, as most of the nation was, but I found out why I was called to be a pastor on that day too.

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PJ and RIT

Last week, I notified the church council that I had been approached to consider a part time chaplain position to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s new Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry and that I was praying about moving forward with that position. St Timothy’s council fully supported this idea, questions were asked, and ultimately the council voted unanimously that this was a wonderful use of my time and a service that St Timothy would be willing to support.

I am pleased to write that, as of this morning, the offer has been extended my way, and I have accepted it. *Breathe* I am not leaving St Timothy *breathe* I want to make that really clear as it was the first question that came from the council.

What will be changed is my availability on Sunday evening and nine hours through the week, as the position is a twelve hour position and service at R.I.T. is on Sunday evening followed by dinner. During the interview, a potential schedule was drawn up, looking at a typical week, and the times lost by St Timothy will be Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon with a few hours some other day as my Fall schedule takes shape at St Timothy and as I assess the needs at R.I.T.

Should there be an emergency such as a hospitalization or an immediate need to visit from a member at St Timothy, there would be no change, except Sunday evening for approximately 2 hours. I have the ability to shape my time at R.I.T. along with my schedule. In that sense, for St Timothy, nothing will change. The only change would be the number of hours that I would have normally used in the office doing administration/paperwork.

The exciting thing is this is a new ministry built on the end of a previous ministry. The Lutheran Campus ministry at R.I.T. used to be a ministry partnered by the ELCA and Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The LCMS chose to leave the ministry a few years ago and the ELCA continued the ministry alone. Last year, the Episcopal church and the ELCA started discussing the possibility of coming together to do ministry together. After a year of talks and planning, this new ministry was formed. As the chaplain, I will get to be part of the ways this new ministry can take shape. One of the gifts in ministry I bring is my ability to create new ministries. The other gift is my heart for youth and young adult ministries. It was a natural fit.

So, as we move forward, please pray for both St Timothy and R.I.T and the ministries they provide. Pray for patience as change happens, pray for a Spirit of new life for both ministries, and pray for me as this is new grounds for my ministry. This is very exciting for all involved. The Spirit continues to move, it is a blessing that we can move with it.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Justin Johnson


PS- I really am not leaving St Timothy. I love you guys!

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Sermons for August 17 and August 10- The Silence of God and Who is God to You

These are the sermons for August 17th on the Silence of God and for August 10th on Who is God to You? Both of these sermons were recorded during our single summer service at 9AM. The second sermon starts at the 11:40 mark. We hope you enjoy the podcast.

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Sermons for Sunday July 27+July 20- On Hell and On Good and Evil

This week is a twofer due to the fact that PJ forgot to upload last week’s sermon.  The first sermon was preached on July 27th and the second on July 20th.  Both sermons are on the Gospel of Matthew with the first on hell and the second on good and evil.  The second sermon begins around the 18:20 spot, if you want to just hear that one.  Enjoy the sermons.



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Sermon for July 13, 2014- The Parable of the Sower

This is the sermon for Sunday July 13, 2014. This is on the Gospel of Matthew and the parable of the sower. It was recorded at our 9AM service.

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