"Hello, my name is Robin Johnson, and I'm the pastor here."
That's how the Rev. Robin Johnson, longtime spiritual leader of Hampden United Methodist Church and founder of the church's popular Emmanuel's Rock social club for youths, introduced himself at a special service organized by the staff to celebrate his 20th year in the ministry, the past nine spent at Hampden UMC, 3449 Falls Road.
It was a self-effacing greeting from a man who needed no introduction. Meeting Johnson "is unavoidable," said Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, one of more than 50 well-wishers at the packed service June 23.
"He's everywhere," Clarke told the audience. "If you walk with (Johnson) down the street, he can call the name of any young person passing by."
Johnson is the son of a retired pastor in North Carolina, who was in the audience, as was Johnson's wife, Dessie, whom he met when she was church secretary. He called her "my greatest blessing" of his tenure at the church.
Johnson is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and was ordained as a deacon in 1997. He pastored in Florida, Georgia and several locations in Maryland, including Silver Spring and Bel Air, before joining Hampden UMC in 2004. The next year, he renovated an upstairs space in the 148-year-old Hampden church for use as Emmanuel's Club, a weekly Saturday social club with games, bands and computers to give youths something to do on a weekend night. The club draws about 40 youths each week.
"Many have said Emmanuel's Rock will be my legacy," Johnson said. In a video about Emmanuel's Rock that was shown during the special service, one youth said, "It keeps me off the streets."
Johnson has also nurtured a food pantry and undertaken projects such as opening a day care center in the church basement and starting an early-morning communion service on Sundays, a more contemporary, mid-week service called A New Day and a new women's Bible study group.
Johnson has also let community groups use the church, including earlier this year, when a water pipe broke at Roosevelt Park Recreation Center. The Hampden Community Council, which meets monthly at Roosevelt Park, used the church while the pipe was being repaired.
"I want to thank Robin for everything's he's done for the church — and for the community," said Bill DeHaven, the church's lay leader.
But the church — and the Methodist community in Hampden — has changed in recent years, as several Methodist churches in the neighborhood have closed or consolidated. Johnson used to be the pastor of both Hampden UMC and Mount Vernon UMC, which was also located in Hampden, but the latter church was heavily damaged in a lightning strike in 2008 and has since been sold to a computer company, Chesapeake Systems, after United Methodist Conference officials in the region decided not to rebuild it. The conference has not given Johnson another church to pastor to replace Mount Vernon UMC, which was merged with Good Shepherd UMC in Hampden.
Johnson is now a part-time pastor at Hampden UMC. His role may change again soon. The United Methodist Baltimore-Washington Conference has formed a "cooperative parish" of Hampden UMC and Sharp Street Memorial UMC in downtown Baltimore, established in 1787 and the oldest black Methodist congregation in Baltimore City, according to the Sharp Street church's website.
The senior pastor of Sharp Street UMC, the Rev. Carey James, will become pastor of what will be called Sharp Street Memorial-Hampden Cooperative Parish, and Johnson will become "campus pastor," referring to Hampden UMC as the campus, Johnson said.
"I'm the Hampden location pastor," Johnson said. He said he doesn't know why the two churches are being paired together, but said, "I think it's going to be an opportunity for us both to grow. We'll be exploring how we can be a ministry together."
Through the Methodist denomination, "we're looking for ways to work together," Johnson said.
The two churches will hold a joint service July 21 in Druid Hill Park, called Praise in the Park, Johnson said. Also scheduled July 21 is a prayer walk, he said.
Hampden UMC last year formed a partnership with Church of the Resurrection, a mega church in Kansas, which provides video sermons and is helping the Hampden church to grow. Recently, the Kansas church has started a "Superhero" series that Johnson has been using at the Hampden church. For the service, he wore a "Superhero" tie and prayed, "Dear God, help us beat evil with love."
"It feels like you've been here forever," Clarke told Johnson at the service, and presented him with a proclamation from the City Council.
Hampden UMC has 98 members on its books, about 43 of them active members. But there were well over 43 people in the church June 23, and Johnson told them, "Do all the good you can. Do no harm. Love God. God wants us all to be more than a friend on Facebook."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun