Carl Johnson’s parents weren’t around much when he was a kid.
He was an only child and he was very inquisitive. “There were three things I said I wanted: I wanted peace. There was so much chaos in my life. I wanted hope. And I wanted love. And that’s what I found in the church.”
This year, Johnson celebrates 50 years as an ordained member of the Lutheran clergy.
He came to the StoryCorps booth in the Chicago Cultural Center with his children, Matthew Moy Johnson and Bethany Kaufmann, to talk about his experiences as a minister.
StoryCorps’ mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. This excerpt was edited by WBEZ.
He was ordained in 1964 in Granite City, Illinois, near St. Louis. “When I became a pastor I realized I had a responsibility and that I needed to be very much aware of what I said and how I lived my life,” he said. “The main thing was to find a deeper meaning.”
As he reflects on his five decades as a clergy member, Johnson remembers small moments: Helping a husband and wife through the loss of their teenage son. Teaching people about God and watching them teach each other. Being an advocate for issues of social justice.
One experience that shaped him as a young pastor was talking to a couple going through a domestic dispute with a loaded gun. He felt like, as a minister, it was his responsibility to counsel them no matter what the circumstances.
Looking back, though, he says entering such a volatile fray - with an angry spouse and a loaded weapon - could almost be considered reckless. He successfully counseled the couple, but said, “Today I would be more cautious.”
Johnson says he is humbled and grateful for everything that’s happened in his life. But, he adds, I still have “so much more to learn.”