“Tell them that I am a good Christian and I’m going to heaven.”
Many of us saw parts of the drama play out in the U.S. House of Representatives two weeks ago, as the majority party struggled to elect its speaker. The person presiding over that drama, gavel in hand, was the Honorable Cheryl Johnson, Clerk of the House.
As one account reported, “Through 15 votes, she rapped the gavel as the essential leader of the nation’s larger representative body. And where there could not be nonpartisan common ground, there would be order. Through 15 votes, America heard Johnson speak, remind the members of the rules that still bound them. To most who saw her on C-SPAN, she was a new face. To those who knew her best, she was the most important thing they saw.”
One of ‘those who knew her best’ is Johnson’s pastor, the Rev. Darryl Roberts. Speaking to Roberts, reporters learned a few key things.
At Sunday services, Cheryl Johnson sits in the back pew.
She enjoys the service, attentive, unassuming, at 19th Street Baptist Church, one of the oldest Black Baptist institutions in Washington, D.C. She serves on the board. She raises money for a pediatric clinic in Haiti.
She volunteers at a civic organization that cultivates and mentors new leaders, teaching principles of faith that can find nonpartisan common ground.
When these same reporters initially contacted Rev. Roberts for an interview, he called Cheryl Johnson to ask permission to talk about her. Johnson returned the pastor’s call, gave him permission, and even encouraged him in what to say. “She said, ‘Tell them that I am a good Christian, and I’m going to heaven.'”
Whatever chaos has consumed America, it seems, Johnson has no doubt about her own path.
In this first post of 2023, we invite you as a board to think about Cheryl Johnson. About her formation as a child of God. About her formation as a trusting disciple. And about her formation as an incredibly competent leader with clarity and integrity. How do you imagine those values got nurtured in Ms. Johnson? How did she continue to grow so that, when the moment came, she was ready to bring her full self – as scripture says, all her “vital powers” – to the challenging task at hand?
Often, it seems, we imagine a barrier between what we do in church world and what we do in other leadership roles. But no such barrier does – or should – exist.
Psalm 139 includes these verses:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
God inhabits all of our lives. And the “mission field” of the church is all the world. There should be no wall between our life outside church and our vocation inside church. How about starting this year by intentionally breaking down that wall and talking with each about leadership as a whole in our lives?
What have you learned in your church board work that you have carried into other leadership roles, formal or informal?
What have you learned in other leadership roles that has served you especially well in your church board work?
What keeps you from bringing gifts and wisdom gained in your “outside life” into your church board work?
What makes it hard for you to connect your faith formation with your work life, family life, or civic life?
How has being a church board member changed your understanding of your faith formation?