The Rev. Earl M. Johnson Jr., a Korean War veteran who was founder and pastor of Grace Bible Baptist Church, died Sunday from congestive heart failure at his Catonsville home. He was 86.
“I think he was one of the greatest pastors I have ever known,” said the Rev. Jerry R. Harmon, a Catonsville resident who grew up attending Grace Bible Baptist Church. “He was a pastor’s pastor.”
Earl Maynard Johnson Jr. was born in Cincinnati and raised in Clifton, N.J. He was the son of Earl M. Johnson Sr., a paper mill worker, and his wife, Nellie Johnson, a homemaker.
After graduating in 1949 from Clifton High School, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Tacoma, Wash., for ski training. While there, he visited a church “where he heard the salvation message, trusted Christ, and his life was changed,” said a daughter, Sherry Gorham of Catonsville.
Mr. Johnson was sent to Korea, where he served as a surgical technician with a MASH unit.
“As a young soldier he carried a portable Victrola with him to play gospel recordings. By sharing the Gospel and offering a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus, he was able to practice his newfound faith while tending the wounded,” his daughter said.”It was there that he promised to serve God if he spared his life.”
Discharged in 1953, Mr. Johnson entered Northeastern Bible Institute in Essex, Fells, N.J., from which he earned his theological degree in 1959.
“He is what is called an Independent Baptist,” Ms. Gorham said.
Mr. Johnson moved to Bel Air, where he established Grace Church, and from 1960 to 1970 was director of the Aberdeen Servicemen’s Christian Center. He was also a founder of the Maryland Bible Institute.
“He considered this a special ministry because he was able to share the Gospel with numerous soldiers from the U.S. military and many from overseas and allied nations,” Ms. Gorham said.
In 1970, he was named pastor of Halethorpe Community Church, and three years later, established his own church, Grace Bible Baptist Church on Rolling Road in Catonsville.
“He found an abandoned church that was fully equipped with everything including hymnals,” Ms. Gorham said. “He didn’t have any money, but the realtor said he would loan it to him.”
During his ministry, the church increased its membership and its physical plant was enlarged, and in 1976 he established a Christian school.
For many years, he appeared on “The Ever Living Story” a daily radio program, which was broadcast from the church and later on WNUV-TV.
In 2016, he stepped down as senior pastor.
“I had gone to seminary and had my own church, and in 2012, he called me and asked me to come back and be his successor and help with the transition,” Mr. Harmon said. “Plus, I am a Catonsville native.”
Mr. Johnson was an inspirational figure.
“Under his ministry, many men were called to go into the ministry,” said Mr. Harmon, who became senior pastor of the church. “He continued to serve as founding pastor and continued to minister to his flock. He was a very strong leader who had gone through a lot of personal difficulties in his own life.”
He described Mr. Johnson as a “very selfless guy who especially liked helping those who were really hurting.”
Abbye E. Jones, a Woodlawn resident, has been a member of Grace Bible Baptist Church for 22 years.
“Reverend Johnson impacted so many people’s lives, and I know he was always there for my family,” said Ms. Jones, who is the church’s financial secretary.
“He was very straightforward and in his sermons would tell it like it is and made sure you.heard the Gospel,” she said. “Everywhere he went, he talked to people and would talk about Jesus. He was easy to get to know and was beloved not only at church but everywhere. It just goes on and on and on.”
“His entire life was devoted to the church. He didn’t have time for hobbies,” Ms. Gorham said. “With him, it was 24/7.”
Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at his church, 1518 N. Rolling Road.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife of 66 years, the former Natalie Konstantinowicz; a son, the Rev. Earl M. Johnson III of Catonsville; another daughter, Cindy Johnson of Catonsville; eight grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.