Matt Johnson Resigns as 17th Rector

January 19, 2021

Dear Friends,

Having consulted with the bishop, I informed the vestry at its meeting this evening of my intention to resign as the 17th rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd.  My last Sunday with you will be during the great fifty days of Easter (the wardens and I will be in touch with details in the coming weeks), and at the end of the school year my family and I will relocate to Germany.  

Although Katharina and I feel the decision to move to Germany is the best for our family, it will be difficult to leave you.  Seven years ago you welcomed Katharina, me, and Elli (and Clara a few months later) to Good Shepherd and made us part of this parish family.  Through you Elli and Clara have come to know the real presence of Christ, and my experience of the living God has grown here more than I could have ever imagined.  Whether celebrating the birth of a child or sitting at the deathbed of a beloved spouse or parent, it has been an incredible privilege to be invited into the sacredness of your lives.  I will always be grateful for the time we have had together following Christ as fellow disciples on the journey.

Through all the ups and downs of life and ministry, I have been inspired by the faithfulness of this parish family.  The vestries you have chosen each year have grounded their decisions in prayer and bible study, while at the same time remaining mindful of their call to be good stewards of the gifts God has entrusted to this parish.  Their Christ-centered approach has supported the ministry of Good Shepherd, especially through our Day School, to be a beacon of light that spreads the love of God in transformative ways throughout both this congregation and the wider community.

Communal life in the church can be difficult, and there have been disagreements (sometimes painful ones) about how God is calling Good Shepherd to work for beloved community.  To help us navigate those challenges, I have striven to foster a parish based mutual ministry and healthy, direct communication.  Although I have tried to serve as your rector with the best of the gifts God has given me, please know how deeply sorry I am for the times when I fell short in my ministry to this parish community or to you personally.

There’s a scene in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Relics” (I had to fit in one Star Trek reference!) when the new Enterprise’s captain, Jean-Luc Picard, and the old Enterprise’s chief engineer, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, reminisce about their first experiences as captain/chief engineer.  Scotty reflects, “Ah, it’s like the first time you fall in love. You don’t ever love a woman quite like that again.”  I would say the same for my first experience as rector of a parish.  Although I will go on to other ministries, there will never be another Good Shepherd.   

As you and I enter a period of transition, I want to express my gratitude for the support of our bishops and canons.  In particular, Sam Rodman (Bishop of North Carolina) and David Sellery (Canon for Congregational Mission) have been immensely helpful.  They, along with Anne Hodges-Copple (Bishop Suffragan) and the other diocesan canons, are people of deep faith, and their guidance will be invaluable both to me and to the parish.

Paul reminds us “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  Our journey together is approaching its end, but we will remain forever connected through the love of God in Christ.  As we prepare to go forward on separate paths, I offer Henri-Frédéric Amiel’s words of encouragement, which I have prayed before the blessing at many Sunday services:
Life is short, and we don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of those who join us on our earthly pilgrimage.  So be swift to love, make haste to show kindness, shower abundant hospitality on friend and stranger. 
The blessing of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always.

Yours in Christ,

Matt Johnson, Rector

January 19, 2021

Dear Members in Christ,

As your wardens, this is a very difficult letter to write.  After spending time in discernment with Matt and Bishop Sam, we have reluctantly accepted the resignation of the Very Reverend Matthew Johnson as our rector.  Since the Johnson family plans to relocate to Germany this summer, Matt’s final Sunday with us will be sometime this spring (we will be in communication with the exact date and other details once they are determined).  We have come to know Matt and Katharina over the last seven years, especially during a difficult 2020 as we have supported both our Church and Day School during the pandemic, and it will be hard to say good-bye.

Since 2014 we have faced a number of challenges in the life of our parish.  Together, we have mourned the deaths of many devoted members, and we are thankful for Matt’s pastoral presence among us (he even changed vacation plans to Germany so that he might remain at the death bed of a beloved parishioner).  We have appreciated his much needed support to parishioners seeking guidance and his encouragement of small prayer groups in which we can support one another.  In particular, beginning with the Discipleship program (which he guided for four years) Matt has worked to expand the variety of groups that explore the scriptures.  And Katharina has shared in this small group ministry, developing bible studies and our especially successful Sacred Ground program.  The list of their accomplishments and great devotion to the parish and wider community could go on much longer…

In the midst of this uncertain time, Matt, Katharina, and your wardens have tried to remain faithful to our call of caring for the least among us.   Like many of you, we have often felt depleted by the pandemic and frustrated the COVID safety protocols, which have left us unable to respond to the needs of our community like we usually would.  We’re grateful that Matt and Katharina have remained with us during this challenging time, but soon we will need to say farewell to them and their daughters Elli and Clara.  Although we will be sad at their departure, we hope you will join us in celebrating their ministry here and praying for their future in Germany, where they can be closer to Katharina’s family. 

As we meet these new challenges it is important to know that we have the full support of Bishop Sam and Canon Sellery (Canon for Congregational Mission), Canon Massey (Canon for Transition and Pastoral Ministries), and Canon French (Interim East Regional Canon), who will be integral parts of the transition process.  Also, the bishop has asked that, in accordance with canonical requirements, the current vestry remain in place, with the two of us continuing to serve as your wardens, until we can have an in-person Annual Meeting (no later than winter 2021-2022).  This continuity in vestry leadership, necessitated by the COVID-19 restrictions, will be beneficial as we begin the transition process.  

We ask that you keep the Johnson family in your prayers as they pursue this new adventure.  And as we all begin a new chapter in the life of our parish, please also pray for your vestry.  We are confident that with all of our prayers and efforts, we will find the path Our Lord and Savior has laid before us.

With prayerful, kind regards,

Mary Palmer, Senior Warden
Jim Curtis, Junior Warden