In a recent interview with Marissanne Lewis-Thompson of the NPR affiliate in St. Louis, the Rev. Deon Johnson, bishop-elect for the Diocese of Missouri, discussed the diocese’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the plans for the beginning of his episcopacy.
Deon Johnson: In the midst of all of this, the highest priority are the people in our communities, making sure that they stay safe. So, one of the things that has come out of the bishop’s office here in the Diocese of Missouri is that we have closed all public worship until the end of May, at which point we’ll re-evaluate. But we really wanted to make sure that those vulnerable populations, our neighbors in Christ, were not going to be impacted directly by actions of either clergy or just going to church or getting together.
Lewis-Thompson: What has the response been to all of that?
Johnson: What it’s done is allowed us to be very creative in how we continue to connect. We’ve made a point to not say “socially distancing,” but to say “physical distancing,” because I think we’re more socially connected now more than ever.
… Lewis-Thompson: What is your vision for the diocese going forward?
Johnson: I don’t have a specific vision. I tend to be one of those people that I would rather go through and meet as many people in the diocese as possible to hear what their hopes and their dreams are. And that, together, we can create a vision that we all can follow.
I mean, there are a couple of things that I really do want us to focus on: I think the church, especially the Episcopal Church, has to redevelop, or rediscover, what evangelism is. And evangelism is really just telling our story. We tend to have negative connotations with evangelism, but, at its best, it’s us simply sharing the stories of where God has impacted us and impacted our lives. So, I think that needs to become a focus.
I also think that the church needs to step into that area of being champions again for social justice. I mean, most of the movements that have happened in this country’s history, the church has been in the forefront, or the church has been leading the way. And I think that we’re called, especially now, to step back into that role of leading and casting that vision of beloved community.
The full interview, including audio, is available here.
Johnson’s ordination and consecration, which will take place on June 13, was originally scheduled for April 25th. The Presiding Bishop’s office announced on March 17 that it, along with others scheduled for the Dioceses of Oklahoma and Alabama, would be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
photo credit: the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri