Pastor Johnson retires after 50 years

By Andrew Garrett -

The congregation of First Presbyterian Church in London heard its last sermon preached by Pastor Gordon Johnson on Sunday, Nov. 12.

Pastor Johnson is retiring after 50 years as the leader of his church family.

A good-sized crowd of First Presbyterian members, friends from other churches, well-wishers from the community, and relatives were in attendance to celebrate the joyous occasion.

After his final sermon, a grand potluck was served for the gathering to enjoy as they partook in fellowship with each other.

Following the luncheon, several speakers addressed the gathering, their mirth and casualness of tone a testament to the love and easily brought forth joy that Johnson evoked in each of them.

“In my professional opinion, Gordon Johnson knows more about church hymns than any person since Martin Luther first wrote church hymns five hundred years ago!” said the church’s choir director, Tom Lloyd.

“That’s because he’s been humming them since third grade!” and audience members jokingly called out.

The group also had a few surprises for Johnson.

The first of these, which was sprung earlier, was the unannounced arrival of Johnson’s sister and brother-in-law, Princess and Wade Miller, traveling in from Alabama.

The second surprise was a collection of scrapbooks compiled and presented by parishioners Joyce Lloyd, Cheryl Baltzer, and Ruth Gorman.

“We tried to chronicle 50 years of memories, but I should clarify that we couldn’t fit it in one scrapbook…so here are six!” said Joyce Lloyd. “Thanks for the memories.”

A third surprise was presented in the form of a check totaling $6,737.42 gathered as a love offering collection. It was well-known that the Johnsons wished to travel to Australia in their retirement, and the congregation made certain it would be possible. Additionally, 200,000 points usable with British Airways were given by Tom Lloyd.

Marjorie Hopkins presented and unveiled a final surprise gift conceived by the Presbyterian Church Quilters — a 16-foot wide quilt depicting the colorful stained glass of the church’s windows. On the reverse, the many individual panels making up the quilt were signed by an array of people fond of the pastor.

Started in spring, the project took several months to complete from the initial design stages to execution. This included taking pictures of the windows and converting those into printout panels, and then getting those signed by congregants and friends. The final construction took place on a single Saturday evening with an all-inclusive crew, according to Hopkins.

That the undertaking of such a project was kept a secret for so long is nearly in itself, an act of God.

Both the pastor and his wife were overwhelmed.

“I am amazed. Their graciousness and generosity leaves me speechless,” the pastor said.

Johnson was instrumental in making First Presbyterian Church what it is today. It was under his guidance that the church opened Madison County’s first daycare center — and at that time in 1973, Central Ohio’s largest.

Prior to his ministry in London, Johnson received his Bachelor’s of Arts in Sociology from Toledo University with a minor in Philosophy.

In 1955 at age 20, Johnson received his calling and entered the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, graduating in 1958. During seminary, Gordon served as the only pastor of Lakeview EUB Church.

This would also be the first time that he led a church through a building project — in this instance, inspiring other members to join in as he and a friend physically demolished the existing walls and floors in preparation for remodeling the basement.

Upon completing the seminary, he became associate pastor for Bowling Green Trinity EUB Church, under pastor Reverend Gerald Fleming. Here he was involved in his second building project — a new addition to the church. It was also during his time at Bowling Green that Johnson obtained a Masters Degree in Sociology the local university.

Some how among all of his studies and pastoral work, he also managed to meet and marry Ruthanne Reiter, his wife and mother of their three children.

In 1961 he was contacted by the Deshler Presbyterian Church to become their full-time pastor. He accepted, but first had to convert to Presbyterianism. He served both the Deshler congregation and the congregation of North Baltimore Presbyterian 14 miles away simultaneously. Here, Johnson headed his third building project — an educational wing.

During this time, Johnson and his wife had their first two children, Mark and Cindy.

In 1967, he received a call from First Presbyterian Church asking him to consider becoming the pastor there — on the condition that he first deliver a sermon, after which the congregation would vote on his suitability.

On Oct. 8, 1967, Johnson preached for his prospective congregation a sermon titled “The Miracle of Obedience.” He had previously told his wife, Ruthanne, that he would only accept the offer if the vote was unanimous. It was.

By early November, The Johnsons had relocated from Deshler to London. A second daughter, Julie, would arrive in 1969.

Initially, the pastor and his wife had the idea staying in London for about five years.

The congregation had outgrown its original church building on Walnut Street, and were undecided on their next course of action — build an addition or relocate.

Johnson advised that a mission study be conducted and a mission statement written. The mission was, in a nutshell, how to better serve the greater community. The idea for an affordable and reliable daycare came to light — something especially needed in an era when more and more women were joining the workforce.

Under Johnson’s leadership, the church decided that relocation was the best option, and has been at its current location on Garfield Avenue ever since.

“Our church subsidizes the program, it doesn’t make us money,” said Johnson. We underwrite it to the tune of $30,000 a year to keep it affordable, and we are glad to do it for the community,” he added.

In the intervening years, those initially planned five stretched and stretched with the business of raising a family — both biological and spiritual — until they were 10 times that.

Pastor Gordon Johnson is grateful for every one of them.

He will remain as a member of First Presbyterian Church as Pastor Emeritus. Garrett | The Madison Press

By Andrew Garrett

Reach Andrew Garrett at 740-852-1616, ext. 1616.

Reach Andrew Garrett at 740-852-1616, ext. 1616.