Each Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous minister. This week we are excited to introduce LeAnn Gunter Johns.
LeAnn, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
Upon graduating from McAfee School of Theology thirteen years ago, I transitioned into a full-time ministry position as associate pastor at Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Five years later, in 2008, I moved with my husband, Barry, to Mountain View, California, where I completed a year-long chaplain residency program at the VA hospital in Palo Alto. After the residency program, I had the opportunity to serve as interim pastor of New Community of Faith in San Jose. This unique and loving congregation was an UCC/ABC church. The members taught me so much in the year we spent worshipping and ministering together.
When my husband and I moved to Georgia in 2010, I was pregnant with our first son. For the next few years, I spent time writing curriculum for small groups/churches and doing pulpit supply. In 2012, I helped start a church in Macon, Georgia: St. Clare Baptist Church. For a year and a half, I pastored this small congregation as we met for worship and fellowship each week. Leaving St. Clare due to family obligations was one of the hardest decisions in ministry I faced, but I appreciated the support of colleagues and friends who reminded me that I was not alone and that this would NOT be the last place of service for me.
In the years that have followed, my family and I moved our membership to First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, and I serve in various roles as a lay person. In 2016, I joined staff of Hospice Care Options as a part-time chaplain. My role is to offer spiritual care to our patients, families, and staff.
What do you find most rewarding in your ministry as a hospice chaplain?
I am always honored when a family invites hospice into their home and into their loved one’s life during most difficult moments. As a chaplain, I work closely with the one in our care and with their family members, seeking to create holy spaces and conversations during the final days. Two of my favorite parts of this ministry involve helping with the bereavement process. Once a year, I coordinate a memorial service for the families of the patients who have died within the last year. For both our families and staff, the service provides a meaningful time of remembering. We light candles for each loved one who has died and remember them together.
My other favorite part is serving on our camp team. Hospice Care Options offers a free camp, “Camp Good Grief,” opened to all kids in our community who have experienced loss. The children who attend camp teach me far more about loss, love, and resiliency than I could ever teach them, but I’m glad we can provide an opportunity for them to realize that they are not alone in their sadness and loss.
How do you stay healthy, physically and spiritually?
For me, running is the best way I take care of my mind, body, and soul. I enjoy running with a group of girlfriends. I also run in races, because I find it fun to set goals and challenge myself. I also enjoy running alone. Running is a spiritual activity for me—it allows me to focus my thoughts, to pray, and at times to block everything else all out and just run.
Communal worship is a vital part of my spiritual life. I love singing hymns, hearing scripture read, and greeting those around me. I’m grateful to be able to be in worship with my family of faith most every week. Now that my young boys are old enough to join us in worship, it’s a different kind of spiritual practice for me. I seek to listen for what they might be hearing, and I try hard to remember that they are not nearly as loud or disruptive as I might think they are!
What is the best ministry advice you have been given?
My friend and mentor, Dock Hollingsworth, delivered the charge to the candidate at my ordination fourteen years ago. I have always remembered his message that day and his general themes. I recently found a copy of the actual sermon, and I love these words he spoke to me: “Do not miss the magic and mystery of your current service in search of your calling. Your vocation is not tied to your title; your vocation is who you are when you are with us.” His words sum up my sixteen years of ministry. I went to seminary thinking that I would have a ministry “career” that would be linear and would look a certain way. But Dock’s words reminded me that my expectations might be different from my ministry path, and his advice to me that day still rings true today. Whether I’ve held titles or not, whether I’ve been paid for ministry or not, my vocation has never been tied to a position or a pay check. My vocation has been (and I hope will always continue to be) who I am when I am with the people God has called me to be with.