S. Lawrence Johnson

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Samuel Lawrence Johnson (born August 16, 1907; died September 11, 1978 in Birmingham) was pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church (now Pilgrim Church) from 1965 to 1974.


Johnson, a native of Minnesota, graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. and Andover (now Andover Newton) Theological School in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, outside Boston. Both institutions were related to the Congregational Churches, which became the United Church of Christ in 1957. Johnson began his ministerial career in 1933 in Salem, Mass., home of the infamous "witch trials" that took place in the late 17th century.

From Massachusetts, he went to pastorates in, respectively, Chicago, Detroit, and Kokomo, Indiana. He was serving at the First Congregational Church in Kokomo when Pilgrim Church called him in the fall of 1965. The congregation had experienced in the previous several years turmoil over controversies engendered by the denomination's highly public and active involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, as well as leadership problems. With already over 30 years of experience as a pastor under his belt, the church bet its hopes on Johnson's skills in administration.

Early in his pastorate, Johnson oversaw a restructuring of the congregation's governance, which changed from a concentration of power in both the deacons' and trustees' boards to a more coordinated, diffuse mode of operation. This probably reduced the number of opportunities for conflict (or else enabled mediation of them) and led to greater participation on the part of the whole membership in the programs of the church. This, in turn, contributed to a stabilization of membership, which had been in decline prior to his arrival due to an unsuccessful attempt on the part of disaffected members to have Pilgrim Church withdraw from the UCC. The dissenters protested against what they felt was meddling by the national church in the city's racial conflicts; their arguments did not carry the day in congregational meetings, and a number of them left by 1965. However, by 1973, Pilgrim Church had recovered sufficiently to the point of paying off the mortgage on its building, which was constructed in 1959 on Montclair Road (the building was demolished in February 2008).

During his years at Pilgrim Church, Johnson authored a series of books featuring children's sermons. The books, all published by Abingdon Press (the United Methodist Church's publishing house), included The Pig's Brother (1970), The Squirrel's Bank Account (1972), Cats and Dogs Together (1975), Captain Ducky (1976), The Mouse's Tale (1978), and The Cross-Eyed Bear (1980, posthumously).

Johnson retired from Pilgrim Church in the summer of 1974 and, beginning in 1976, held the title of pastor emeritus until his death. He was married to the former Alice Duncan; Mrs. Johnson died in 2008.


  • Obituary, 1979 Year Book, United Church of Christ.
  • Feazel, Frances T. (2003) A History of the Pilgrim Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, 1903-2003. self-published by the church.