Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Johnson grew up in Walpole, graduated from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, in 1971, and then from Andover Newton Theological School with a Master of Divinity degree in 1975. He was ordained in the United Church of Christ that same year. He completed his Doctor of Ministry at Eastern Baptist Theological School in 1990 with a focus on marriage and family. He is a member of the adjunct faculty at Andover Newton.
Johnson and his wife, Dr. Ann Searing, served the Athol Congregational Church, UCC, for 14 years as an ecumenical team. He has been pastor of First Congregational Church of Milton, located at 495 Canton Ave., since 1993.
What’s new and exciting at First Congregational?
Several new small groups that are having a life of their own and add much depth and richness to our congregation: Men’s Discussion, Women’s Discussion, Unbinding Prayer Group, Prayer Shawl knitting group (which presents prayer shawls to persons in crisis, and prayer squares to those in military or in college), Vacation Bible School, and Spiritual Parenting discussion groups.
Also, outreach groups. We serve the evening meal at Mainspring Shelter in Brockton once a month; we have been going to New Orleans to help Habitat for Humanity build houses for five years; and our youth are staying at a church in Boston while they work for several agencies/shelters in the city.
Worship and music are always exciting at First Congregational.
You've been renting space to another church and to Temple Shalom. How has that been working out?
Yes, to the temple and to the Good Shepherd Evangelical Baptist Church, ministering to the Haitian community. It’s going very well. They are pleased to be here, and we are pleased to have them.
The rabbi will be teaching a course for our people in the near future. The Baptists will be singing at a concert at our church on June 23. We are learning a great deal about our Jewish roots through the different festivals that the temple is celebrating. And we are learning that despite certain theological differences, we are all in the business of loving God and loving people. We have a lot in common.
How would you describe your role in the Milton Interfaith Clergy Association?
“Wise elder .” I’m the longest-serving member of the clergy association. I am quick to point out that this doesn’t mean that I am the oldest member, just the longest-serving!
Describe the satisfaction you get from being a minister in Milton.
Sometimes Milton is conceived of as an upscale town filled with wealthy, comfortable and always-happy people who own islands in the Bahamas. Not so. My deepest satisfaction comes from connecting with people as they wrestle with the struggles in their lives: death, illness, unemployment, marriage and family issues, the meaning of life. The Christian faith has important things to offer, bringing hope, healing and a clearer sense of direction.
Being the pastor of First Congregational Church has been particularly satisfying because we have turned our church around from one that was dying to one that is now alive, growing, and reaching out in meaningful ways.
I also enjoy my many connections with the people, the agencies and groups, and the many issues particular to our town.
Your dad was a blue-collar guy. How did he feel about your going into ministry?
Dad’s language sometimes turned “blue,” too. After I got ordained, he quipped, “You’re going to have to hide me in the closet!”
Seriously, while my decision to go into the ministry caught him by surprise, he was quietly proud of what I felt led to do with my life.
What was the best advice he ever gave you? And what impact did it have on your life’s work?
“Always give a good day’s work for a good day’s pay.”
“Always give a firm handshake, not like a sneaker full of oatmeal.”
“Always look people in the eye.”
About funerals: “Kid, you have to guild the lily, but don’t guild it too much!”
He provided me with a strong work ethic, which has always been part of my life. I was prepared to work hard, and I was ready to live on a modest income. He taught me that no matter what color your collar was, down deep we are made out of the same stuff – when you connect with people at that level, you can create relationships with anybody.
He went to many funerals for his friends, and he could always tell if the pastor had done their homework. Sometimes the deceased’s name was just tossed into a ritual. Other times, he could tell that the officiant really the deceased and really cared about them. I’ve never forgotten that.