Requiem set for retired North Carolina Bishop Robert C. Johnson

By ENS staff
Posted Jan 3, 2014

ens_010314_RobertJohnson[Episcopal News Service] A requiem Eucharist will be celebrated Jan. 11 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Durham, North Carolina, for retired North Carolina Bishop Robert C. Johnson.

Johnson, 75, who was the 10th bishop of the diocese died early on Jan. 3.

He served the diocese as bishop from 1994 to 2000. He came to the episcopate having served in the diocese for 30 years as a deacon and a priest, including 19 years as the rector of St. Luke’s, Durham, where he developed a reputation as a preacher and a pastor, according to a biography on the diocesan website.

Born on July 18, 1938 in Georgia, he was raised a Southern Baptist and ordained at an early age.

While at Yale Divinity School in the early 1960s, he came to seek Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church and was ordained by then-North Carolina Bishop Thomas Augustus Fraser in 1965.

“As Bishop, Johnson encouraged the Diocese to engage in healthy and hospitable practices and to honor the ministries of all the baptized, including gay and lesbian members,” his diocesan biography says. “He spoke out strongly against capital punishment and racist behavior and on behalf of weak and marginalized members of society.”

In response to growing controversies in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, the diocese said, Johnson appealed to the unity of the church and mutual forbearance.

Johns held what his biography calls “the solemn but painful duty” of serving on the House of Bishops’ Ecclesiastical Court which heard, and then dismissed, charges against a fellow bishop, Walter Righter. (Episcopal News Service coverage of that decision is here.

Pained by what he saw as signs of a lack of charity at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the biography says, he subsequently announced his retirement and called for the election of his successor in 2000.


Comments (13)

  1. Greg Proctor says:


    Was my Bishop for 6 years. He ordained me and was a pastor to me. He was a very kind and dedicated man, tirelessly working for reconciliation and unification. He was also an all around great man. Though I have been away from the Diocese of North Carolina for many years I still mourn his death and will miss him.

    Greg Proctor
    Chapel of the Cross
    Rolling Fork, Mississippi

  2. Debbie Walker says:

    I am proud to say that I knew Bp. Johnson as our Bishop while I served as a Diocesan Delegate to our Conventions during his tenure. He was a wonderful leader and a kind, compassionate human being. He will be sorely missed by everyone in our Diocese.

    1. Teresa says:

      I also am proud to say that I knew him and his wife as well. He was a wonderful leader, and a very caring man for all peoples. He will be missed. But God has called him home, he has run his race and he ran it well.

  3. Talmage G Bandy says:

    Bp. Johnson was my ordaining bishop in 1999 and my friend. He had a gantle soul. I will miss him.

  4. The Rev. Canon E. T. Malone, Jr. says:

    Bishop Johnson was one of the most decent, honest, and honorable men I have ever known. It was a privilege to serve on diocesan staff during his tenure. He demanded good work but respected the professionalism of those around him, tolerating differences of opinion and spending more time listening than pontificating. He was concerned about growing “congregationalism” and emphasized that the diocese is the basic unit of the church. He worked quietly to enhance the role of women and minorities. I attended the 1994 and 1997 General Conventions and the 1998 Lambeth Conference with him, observing his grief at the conflicts in the church over human sexuality. A man of great compassion and genuine humility, he spent much time responding personally to calls and letters from individuals, refusing to delegate to staff what he felt was the responsibility of the Bishop as shepherd of his flock. I do not know of anyone who was not saddened when he decided to retire after only six years as bishop, and we urged him to stay, but he seemed to feel that he was inadequate for the job. To the contrary, I shall always remember Bob Johnson, a truly Lincoln-like figure, and at times a “man of sorrows,” as the epitome of a true leader of his people.

  5. Phyllis Gordon says:

    Bob Johnson was a great man – a great preacher, pastor, mentor, friend. When we moved to North Carolina in 1985, we knew we’d be shopping for an Episcopal church home. That first Sunday, we attended St. Luke’s, and we never went anywhere else. The intern at St. Luke’s at the time was Anne Hodges-Copple, now Bishop Suffragan after having served as Rector of St. Luke’s, and the Transitional Deacon was the remarkable Brooks Graebner, now Rector of St. Matthews in Hillsborough. Bob certainly provided a nurturing environment for all. We were honored to be invited to attend his consecration as Bishop. I love him and Connie, and I will miss him so.

    1. Paul Harner says:

      Phyllis, we’ve been so out of touch for so many years. How to reach you and Steve?

  6. Dotun Olagoke says:

    May his soul rest in peace Amen

  7. Audrey Nickel says:

    Bob Johnson was our parish priest at St. Luke’s for our first four years in Durham, and was the kindest, most wonderful man! The church could use more like him!

  8. Robert Alves says:

    Bob was the first priest to welcome me to the diocese at my first clergy conference in 1993. I will always remember his personal warmth and gentle spirit. It was a joy to serve under his leadership as bishop and a pleasure to spend a few spring days together catching rock fish on the Roanoke River. Connie, you will be in my thoughts and prayers this Saturday.

  9. Paul Harner says:

    Bishop Johnson — just “Bob” to all of us, since he despised titles — was a pastor and priest in the best sense of both words. He and Connie could not have led all of us in any better way than just to be themselves. Many of us remember him for his gifts from the pulpit, but he should be remembered most for his gifts as a friend and mentor to all. Gifts that should not be forgotten. Rest well, Bob.

  10. His quiet demeanor and wry sense of humor always buoyed me whether sitting with him in council or in prayer. I will miss him and the spirit of conciliation with which he moved among members of the clergy, and when working with the Trustees or Standing Committee. May the Church Triumphant receive him in glory.

  11. Chuck Harner says:

    There’s an old expression that “he’s a good man”. Bob Johnson epitomized the literal meaning of the phrase – he was, in every sense, a “GOOD” man. He was the most decent, caring human being I ever meant or will be privileged to meet, and he was also the best week-to-week consistently excellent preacher I ever hope to know. God rest his soul.

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