On Sunday, the Rev. Judith Johnson and her congregations will celebrate two milestones.
The first is the 10th-anniversary celebration of her ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
And the second is the 13th anniversary of her ministry partnership with Elim and St. Paul’s Lutheran Churches, both of rural Hooper.
The public is invited to a combined worship service starting at 10 a.m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1843 County Road E, Hooper. There will be no worship service at Elim that morning.
Area residents also are invited to an open house/reception. The event is set from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in Mohr Auditorium in Scribner from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Brief remarks will be made at 2 p.m.
Johnson has been serving the churches since August 2006 — first as vicar as she was completing the Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) program at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.
She was ordained on Aug. 30, 2009. Since her ordination, she has been the pastor of the two partner congregations.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since I was ordained, or 13 years since I’ve been at Elim and St. Paul’s,” Johnson told the Fremont Tribune. “I’m so thankful that I’m able to serve the congregations as their pastor. I thank God every night for the blessing the churches are, and can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Johnson’s life journey has included many highlights that have included being a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, journalist and business owner.
Johnson grew up on a farm near Hampton and earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education with an emphasis in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1970.
She and her husband, Richard, married in 1971. She taught English, speech and journalism at Weeping Water High School for three years, then ninth grade English at Millard Lefler Junior High School in Lincoln for a year.
In 1974, the Johnsons moved to Nebraska City where Richard was a guidance counselor and Judy taught senior high school English.
But when Richard got a job as guidance director at West Point High School in 1979, Judy wanted to take a break from teaching to be home more with their children, Steve and Amy.
“It just so happened that Dick and Gwen Lindberg were publishers of the West Point News and they had an opening for a part-time features reporter and photographer so I applied and got that job,” she said.
Dick Lindberg assigned Johnson to write a weekly column called “Everyday People.”
Johnson worked there for four years, then started Johnson Public Relations, which she ran from her house.
In 2000, Johnson became director of college relations at Wayne State College — a job she’d have for six years. The office is in charge of all the communications and publications.
Throughout Johnson’s life, church has been important.
“I never ever was tired of going to church,” she said.
She would have considered being a pastor but was a member of a denomination that didn’t ordain women.
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Then she learned about the ELCA and began attending St. John’s Lutheran Church, County Line, where the Revs. Tim Madsen and Wendy Buckley served as a clergy couple.
The Johnsons joined the church and she read Scriptures during services.
In the late 1990s, the ELCA launched a program called TEEM — Theological Education for Emerging Ministries. Johnson was approved for the program in 2003, but couldn’t start until a placement was found for her.
“The way the program works is that while you’re taking online and some traditional coursework at seminary, you are in an actual church setting,” she said.
So Johnson kept working at the college, while the Nebraska Synod looked for a place where she could serve.
In June 2005, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Johnson wrote to then-ELCA Nebraska Synod Bishop David deFreese, telling him about the diagnosis.
And if this affected her standing in the TEEM program, she asked deFreese to show her what else she could do for the church.
“This doesn’t disqualify you,” deFreese said. “Just put it out of your mind and I thank you for being patient as far as not having a placement.”
Within six months, the bishop’s assistant said not one, but two churches had been found for her.
Johnson met with the church councils. She went to services at both churches and met with parishioners.
That afternoon, she got a call from each of the council presidents, saying both churches wanted her to be their pastor.
After the placement, she applied for seminary. And for the next three years — while serving both churches — she took online courses and went to Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, for weekend or weeklong intensive courses.
In recent years, the two churches have been involved in various projects.
Most recently, the churches hosted a community Vacation Bible School during which 47 students did their part to raise $450 for God’s Global Barnyard.
Through this program, animals and birds are purchased and sent to countries to help families and communities earn a living by selling items such as eggs from chickens and milk and cheese from cows and goats.
Before that, the churches’ confirmation class made than 20 fabric fidget mats and six wooden fidget boards to give to area nursing care facilities for residents with memory-related issues.
Students created these items with help from $1,000 they received via the Fremont Area Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Contest (YPC), and donations.
Other activities include the long-running Midsummer Festival at Elim, which this year featured Cowboy poet Jake Riley. The church has hosted a Santa Lucia procession as part of its Christmas Eve candlelight worship service.
St. Paul’s hosts Polka Sunday, which is tied to a special Sunday of service called “God’s Work. Our Hands.” The Polka Sunday worship service starts at 10 a.m. Sept. 8 at St. Paul’s.
Now the churches are looking toward more milestones.
In 2020, St. Paul’s will celebrate its 150th anniversary. Elim will celebrate its 150th in 2021.