The Rev. Deon K. Johnson, originally from Barbados, has made Brighton his home and the community at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church his family since 2006.
He is one of the modern-day community leaders and trailblazers whom Patch is highlighting in recognition of Black History Month.
Johnson, who worked as a priest in Ohio, read about St. Paul’s and was intrigued by their programs, like adopting families through LACASA, and openness.
“They were welcoming to anybody – gay, lesbian, whether you were conservative or not,” he said.
Johnson is changing the face of his congregation by including youth and adding flexibility. His and the parish's openness allows for flexibility on issues that some may think are set in stone, like Sunday service.
“Is Sunday morning the best time for our community to get together? It may be Sunday evenings,” he said.
He said he is talking with the congregation, particularly the 20 to 30 age group, to see whether a new time for service is more beneficial.
Johnson, 35, joined The General Theological Seminary in New York, in 2000 directly after college. He was ordained at 25, he said, the youngest age anyone can be ordained.
Another of Johnson’s efforts once joining St. Paul’s in Brighton was to bring the youth back to the church by providing youth-specific activities and creating welcoming spaces for them.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of kids when I got here,” he said.
The congregation’s average age is now in the 40s. He said there are about 217 families, including more children than when he first arrived.
Johnson Reflects on Change
Johnson has also moved the congregation to pick projects to help Brighton or Livingston County residents that can be completed within a year.
“Often if you start something, it will go until the second coming. And the reality is people don’t want to do the same thing for 50 or 60 years anymore,” he said.
Projects include providing middle school students with school supplies, working with homeless teen center Connection Youth Services and creating an organic farm that donates produce to Gleaners Food Bank and feeds those at The Emrich Retreat Center.
The farm started as a garden that would donate produce to Gleaners, Johnson said. A parishioner who was studying to be a farmer bought about 30 acres and now continues it as an organic farm, he said.
“It was one of those ministries that we said we were only going to do for three years,” he said.
Now the community has taken over and the church can work on other projects, like renovations. Johnson said church renovations may begin in late May or early June. He said the plan is to keep the original building, which was built in 1880, but there are other plans to consider.
“Part of the expansion is to make sure there’s enough space but also for what we want to be in the future,” he said.