Life Stories

LIFE STORIES: Quincy pastor builds life from calling to ministry

Rev. Patty Johansen, pastor of Vermont Street United Methodist, poses for a photo in the chapel on Wednesday, Sep. 27, 2017. Johansen has been a full time minister since 1985. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 2, 2017 3:15 pm

QUINCY -- On the southern wall of her office, the Rev. Patty Johansen has built a sort of timeline of her life reflected through pictures of the churches in which she has served.

Sanctuary photos of each church have been hung in chronological order, starting with the home church she attended as a child in Champaign, Ill. The only one missing from the eight-church display is Vermont Street United Methodist Church, where she serves as lead pastor -- the first woman to ever serve in the role.

When she was appointed to the church, the associate pastor, one of only the few females to have ever served as a pastor at the church at that time, called Johansen to tell her about a special stained glass window in the church's sanctuary. The center of the window features three images of Jesus at different points in his life, while two stacked tiles on either side display the women who were most important to Jesus.

"She told me, ‘I always felt like that window was God's promise to me that there would be a woman lead pastor appointed here one day,'" Johansen said.

With little to no ties to Champaign -- her parents had moved there for her father's career when she was around a year and a half old -- the church became a defacto extended family for Johansen. Her mother worked as the church secretary, and Johansen often accompanied her. Both had faith, but neither of her parents had grown up with a strong emphasis placed on attending church. When they had children, Johansen speculates -- they're both gone now and she never received a solid answer on what brought them back -- they felt they didn't have the knowledge to properly convey religion to their children and returned to the church.

"We were all kind of learning and growing in our faith at the same time," Johansen said. "I remember when my dad was toward death, he was always a stoic, but that was a point where he was really able to talk about his faith. I was so relieved that he was not afraid."

A love of books fueled Johansen's first dream of becoming a librarian or a teacher. That love stayed with her and is evidenced by the setup in her current office, which houses seven bookcases, some lightly decorated and others crammed with books.

Spending time at the church where her mother worked, Johansen became friendly with the church's volunteer librarian when she was in the fourth grade. She would go in early before choir practice on Saturday mornings to help organize the books. A Christian educator on the church's staff took an interest in Johansen and took her under her wing, letting Johansen, then a senior in high school, coordinate the church's Vacation Bible School.

"In another day and time, I think she would have been a pastor," Johansen said, "but in those days, there were hardly any women who ever went into ministry."

The mentorship-type relationship was enough to realign Johansen's focus to religious studies when she enrolled at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill. Sometime in her sophomore year, the associate pastor of her church in Bloomington and her academic advisor concurrently suggested she consider pursuing ordained ministry.

"I came out of that convinced that God was calling me into ministry," she said. "There comes a point where you just know in your soul that that's the right thing."

Johansen holds a master's of divinity and a master's degree in pastoral care and counseling from the Iliff School of Theology, a United Methodist Church seminary in Denver, Colo. Her first position out of seminary was as an associate pastor in Kewanee in 1985. There she gained the practical knowledge of how to interact with a grieving family.

"In Kewanee, I baptized for the very first time a preemie who wasn't going to make it," she said. "To know that that right of initiation had happened for their baby was important to them. I just wanted to bring some comfort to the family."

It was also in Kewanee that she met the Rev. Mike Crawford, a seminary student appointed to a small church in a tiny nearby town -- the man she would later marry. In 1988, around the same time they married, Crawford was transferred to a church near Taylorville, Ill. Johansen requested a transfer to the area, and the couple moved into together for the first time. The congregation she came to serve at the United Methodist Church in Blue Mound, Ill., was significantly smaller than her previous appointments, with attendance not quite reaching 100 on any given Sunday.

"It was a new experience for me, because I really got to know these 100 or so people," she said.

They had their first child, Kara, there. When she announced her pregnancy at the pulpit, she felt accepted.

"That was huge for the Blue Mound church," she said. "They hadn't had a baby for a really long time."

She has generally been well-liked at the churches she's served, but a few have taken time to accept the fact she's a female lead pastor.

There were several more moves along the way. The couple has always refused to live apart, so when one is appointed to a new church, the other must follow.

One stop took them north to the Galesburg and Alpha, Ill.-areas, where they saw the birth of their son, Mark. Another of Johansen's appointments took her to a dying church in Andover, Ill., whose congregation has since disbanded.

"We've never asked to move," Johansen said, "but we're getting pretty good at it."

The next move to Rochester, Ill. in 2001, saw the couple appointed together as co-pastors at the same church. The church was in the process of relocating, and once it sold, the couple rented an office in a strip mall and began using the gymnasium of the local elementary school as a make-shift sanctuary for one year, while the church sought out a new location. Johansen sees it as a positive experience overall but recognizes that the assignment blurred the lines of their work and personal lives.

"We would be having staff meetings at midnight," she said. "I don't think we need to do that again."

There were two more stops before the couple settled in Quincy.

Crawford now serves as a consultant for the churches in the conference and is no longer tied to a single church. With her husband constantly traveling, Johansen puts in 50 to 55 hours each week. The couple sets aside every Friday -- what they refer to as their Sabbath Day -- to catch up on life's tasks outside the church and to care for themselves. The only thing that interrupts Sabbath Days are funerals and wedding rehearsals.

Next January, Johansen will complete her one-year term as president of the Quincy Area Ministerial Association. For the last three years, she has been directing a licensing school in Springfield, Ill. She has been teaching spiritual formation classes there for seven years. Both of the couple's children are pursuing futures in the church -- Mark will begin attending seminary next year, and Kara works for the mission agency of the United Methodist Church.

Johansen has been the first female lead pastor at five of the eight churches in which she has served.

"It's important for me not to get too wrapped up in my own significance," she said. "I'm a beloved child of God, but I'm not all that. I'm not the savior, and I'm not the one with all the answers."

Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.

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