Wednesday, September 14, 2016

David Johnson and the good shepherd: RIP

I can’t remember exactly when I met David sometime around 2008 or 9. But he was my best buddy at Judson Memorial Church. There were others I knew at Judson, some for years before I got to Judson.  But he was the first, who I really knew, or who really knew me through the church.

Like others in his crew, I sat in the back corner with David, listening, commenting on the sermons, the lessons, our foibles.  When my kids had trouble coming to Judson, he sympathized. When I had trouble with it all, he listened and cared.

I don’t know when we became friends.  But I recall a workshop Steve Duncombe gave downstairs on the sign and signifier. He observed, listened, and we talked about friendship and fellowship.

And then we greeted each other at church.

“How are you?” I’d ask.

“Better now that you are around,” he smiled, always a warm greeting.

Over time, he showed me more and more of Judson, introducing me to Howard Moody, inviting me to come for one of the bleach parties, bringing me a copy of Howard’s book, and later showed up at a book party for our book, The Beach beneath the Streets, at Bluestockings in 2011.

He sympathized when I was a little shocked by nudity during and Easter Service at Judson.

“I’m from the South.  We don’t have naked men running around church there,” I moaned. 

He seemed to understand, chuckling.

Like all of us, he had his moods. I recall seeing him walking through the village
eating a burger mumbling to himself as he made his way down the street, another magnificent village character from another time.

I later asked him about that moment and he laughed, confessing he’d been having a bad day. That was what was lovely about David, he was able to smile and laugh and be honest about the difficult moments.

But mostly, we’d talk about the theology and history of Judson.  David sent me newsclips about Judson. He proudly recalled stories of Howard Moody’s support for sex workers and reproductive rights at the church.  He often told me about the decades he’d been coming to the church, the cycles of ministers and lessons over the years.

For me, he was the spirit of Judson, always with a smile, welcoming me when I did not know where to sit.  

When I see his seat this Sunday, I’ll smile a sad smile and remember.

Matthew Nelson 


  1. Thank you for taking the time to post this. I miss him.

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