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Rev. Jeff Johnson

Ministry setting

Jeff is the fourth pastor to serve at University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley and as campus pastor at the University of California, Berkeley since his call in the fall of 1999. Prior to this he was pastor of First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco's Richmond District. As a pastor, he has been passionate about liturgy and liturgical space, pastoral care and discernment, faith formation with people of all ages, and building inclusive and welcoming community; organizing communities of non-violent civil resistance and solidarity with immigrants, undocumented people, and workers; being at work in the world for justice and peace. While at First United in San Francisco, Jeff served two terms as Dean of the San Francisco Conference of Lutheran Churches and as a member of the Steering Committee for Religious Witness for Homeless People. Thanks to Sister Bernie Galvin and Father Louie Vitale, Jeff was arrested a number of times for non-violent civil disobedience with other clergy, rabbis, and faith leaders, in organized protest of the criminalization of homelessness which happened in San Francisco in the 1990s. Over the past thirteen years as the pastor at the Chapel, Pr. Jeff has continued the Chapel’s long tradition of “being at work in the world,” with special emphasis these days on our partnerships in El Salvador, immigration, sanctuary, and our support for undocumented DREAMers, LGBTQ justice and same-sex marriage, hunger, poverty, and deepening economic dislocation. In 2004, the Chapel completely renovated and redesigned our facility, including our liturgical, administration, and community spaces. Shortly thereafter, we brought the Lutheran Volunteer Corps to the Bay Area. We have intentionally become a community of discernment for seminarians, interns, young adults, and students seeking to serve in the church. In addition, Jeff has served on the Executive Committee of the Synod Council of the Sierra Pacific Synod. He’s a member of the Board of Directors for the SHARE El Salvador and has traveled there many times over the past six years. He is on Steering Committee of the East Bay’s Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and is one of the founding members of the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition. He is part of the Bright Stars of Bethlehem advocacy community and recently returned from a ten day tour of Palestine, Israel, and the occupied West Bank. He is a supervisor in the teaching parish and internship programs at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and is privileged to serve this year on the seminary’s Pastoral Care Team. In 2012, he received the Alum Award for Distinguished Ministry as a Parish Pastor from PLTS.

What brings you joy in your ministry?

I am delighted to be able to do this kind of work and to have the honor of standing alongside people during the most significant times and transitions in their lives.

Who inspires you in ministry or seminary?

Daily, I am inspired by the memory of my friend and colleague in seminary, Joel Workin, who inspired the courage and creativity that motivates much of my ministry!

What are your interests outside of ministry?

Jeff lives in Oakland’s Piedmont District in a 1928 stucco bungalow with his partner Pepe Sanchez Aldaco. He enjoys good mysteries, movies, learning Spanish, gardening in his back yard, cooking and throwing dinner parties, home-renovation, hanging out in coffee-shops, salsa dancing, walking Lake Merritt, and spending time with friends and family.

Best meal you've ever eaten?

Tacos al pastor, just after midnight on the street in Cuernavaca, Mexico

Brief bio

Jeff grew up in Southern California and is a 1984 graduate (summa cum laude), of California Lutheran University with BA degrees in German and History. In 1988 received his MDIV from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Along with two other PLTS seminarians (Joel Workin and James Lancaster), Jeff came out as an openly gay man to his LCA candidacy committee (Bishop Stan Olsen) in the fall of 1987 and was certified for ordination. (LA Times Archive for Feb 24th article.) After the formation of the ELCA in 1988, new “interim guidelines” were created requiring celibacy of openly lesbian and gay candidates, and the three were deemed ineligible for placement in a congregation of the new denomination. After graduation, Jeff was hired by Richard Stahlke and the Rev. Paul Schulze as the Director of AIDS Education for Lutheran Social Services of Northern California, where he coordinated the first national ELCA Bishops Convocation on HIV and authored a curriculum series used by northern California Lutheran congregations responding to the HIV epidemic. In 1990 he founded Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministry (now Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries) along with his colleagues, Pastors Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, to challenge the ELCA’s policy of discrimination against LGBT people, and to provide a Lutheran outreach to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community of the San Francisco Bay Area. Together these three were ordained extra ordinem (contrary to official ELCA policy requiring celibacy) on January 20, 1990 at St. Paulus Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Over 1000 people gathered at St. Paulus, with services held at the same time in seven cities across the country. As a consequence of these ordinations and subsequent calls, their two San Francisco congregations, St. Francis and First United Lutheran Churches were brought to ecclesiastical trial in June, 1990 and were expelled from the ELCA at the end of 2005. Throughout the 1990s and 2000’s, Jeff was an advocate for resisting the ELCA’s policy, helping to found and lead a number of organizations (Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries, the Extraordinary Candidacy Project, Goodsoil, and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries) with the purpose of organizing resistance to and non-compliance with the policies of forced celibacy and discrimination within the largest Lutheran church in the United States, which fell finally at the Churchwide Assembly in 2009. Along with other clergy rostered with the Extraordinary Candidacy Project, Jeff was received onto the ELCA’s roster of clergy in 2010 following this change in policy. The official letter of censure levied against University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley by Bishop Mattheis shortly after Jeff was called as pastor was lifted. St. Francis Lutheran Church was admitted back to the church shortly thereafter, and First United returned at a service of celebration on October 14, 2012.

Did you always want to be clergy?

Clergy, professor of German literature, or civil rights lawyer. These were my choices after I grew out of my boyhood dream of becoming a professional baker and pastry chef.

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