I have found that loved people love, those who’ve been forgiven forgive much, transformed people transform others, almost as if by osmosis, and the best listeners have been deeply listened to. These and other proverbial sentiments all come quickly to mind when I set to task an introduction of our special pulpit guest, Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston, Ph.D.
My first conversation with Mark was in 2013, soon after First Christian Church Des Moines adopted our current Identity Statement. This statement effectively announces our desire to function as an open and affirming congregation. Over the phone, in that conversation two years ago, Mark was joyous, curious, and overtly encouraging; which I respect as Mark’s gift in ministry – a wholehearted embrace of each and every person he encounters. In this way, he epitomizes some of the best qualities we Christians attempt to cultivate: joy, interest in others, and affirming embrace.
Mark grew up in Southern California where he learned to love the outdoors and was introduced to his favorite activities, skiing, sailing, and cycling. He attended Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, where he majored in psychology, religious studies, German, and computer science. From Texas Mark attended graduate school at Boston University where he earned his PhD in Pastoral Psychology and was ordained by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Northeast.
Mark trained and served as a psychologist in Boston until 2013 when he became the Executive Director of GLAD Alliance’s Open & Affirming Ministry Program. Mark had already served GLAD in leadership and volunteer roles for almost 25 years, and as he puts it, “I got to the point in my life where I realized I wanted to do this work full time – it was clearly my passion.”
Mark also points out that as a psychologist, he often worked with people who had been damaged by the church’s homophobia. “As a psychologist, I worked to repair the damage done by the church.” Mark continues, “Today, I work to prevent that damage in the first place. Offering welcome to our neighbors is such an important thing. We can’t even start being church until we start learning to love our neighbor.”
Mark moved to San Francisco early this year to be with the partner that he met early in 2014, Shannon Halkyard, a high school chemistry teacher, and a very strong willed Jack Russel Terrier, Fannie Mae.
Mark still loves to cycle (and is proud that for the past 21 years he has cycled to raise money for AIDS care and research) and sails when he can get near a boat. Over the years he has added scuba diving to his outdoor activities, and has also developed a love of travel and language learning.
Please join me in welcoming Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston, Ph.D. as our special pulpit guest this Sunday, October 18, and stick around for a unique pot-luck conversation with Mark continuing our evolution toward being a radically welcoming congregation.