By Rockford Johnson
I have floated the Rio Grande, the White River in Arkansas, the Illinois in Oklahoma. I once owned a canoe. Such winding rivers provide an apt metaphor for my life’s unfolding adventure. In his poem "Fluent," Irish poet and theologian John O’Donovan voices a yearning to live life like a river, "carried by the surprise/of its own unfolding."
Carried along by the surprising grace of God, employing our gifts and skills in navigating and propelling, we do not fully know what is around the next bend. We do know that God is always and effectively with us.
I was raised in a small Oklahoma town that had no Methodist or Baptist congregation! I had grandparents in each of two Mennonite churches. I was raised and experienced God’s Christ-centered saving grace in a quasi-independent church of mostly Mennonite people, then sojourned among those in another denomination.
Then I chose the United Methodist tributary and found a theological home and welcoming place of service. As Bishop Hayes likes to say, "I got here as fast as I could."
Shortly after entering the Oklahoma Conference, I attended Local Pastors Licensing School. While worshipping in the chapel of OKC-Wesley UMC, my mind and heart were "strangely warmed" by the Spirit as I participated in a reaffirmation of baptism. It was for me a confirming experience of God’s unfolding guidance.
A few years later, at Tulsa-Boston Avenue UMC, I knelt at the altar during Annual Conference for Recognition of Orders. The Love Divine among us humbled me and caused a swell of deep gratitude for this connectional journey of ministry in which we advance the mission of God in Christ, reconciling the world.
Life’s river first carried me into pastoral ministry at Gober, Texas — a village of 17 houses, four churches, an ancient gas station, the officially smallest post office in that big state, and a mostly retired cotton gin. The church was filled with 35 faithful friends and plenty of joy.
Subsequently, I have served and been blessed and shaped by faith communities in Duncan, Lone Wolf and Blair, Tulsa, Shawnee, and Chickasha.
Early and along the way I’ve encountered the Spirit’s influence through persons and experiences. One grandmother modeled piety, purity, and compassion; the other: education, music, culture, and community. Dad was a lay preacher and teacher, took me with him to county jail ministry, and often witnessed to God’s liberating work. Mom taught Sunday School and taught us to laugh. At church camp I experienced a call to ministry with confirmation of faith and promised to employ whatever gifts I had for the mission of Christ.
Through education and ministry, professors and pastors, that sense of a call has matured and deepened.
It has led me to fresh understandings and a continuing desire to experience and express the rich import and interplay of God’s magnanimous, holy grace and our faithful responsibility.
I am surprised, humbled, grateful, eager, and desirous of your prayers as the current of grace carries me into ministry with the mission, laity, and clergy of North Oklahoma City District.