A chorus of “amen” echoed through half of the congregation as the guest pastor at Bright Hope Baptist Church commended the outbound Rev. Kevin R. Johnson during his sermon on Sunday, Oct. 12.
The other half remained silent, eyes fixed ahead.
Johnson, the fifth senior pastor at the Baptist church on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, is due to leave at the end of the month. He announced his resignation during the Sunday morning mass on July 20; he said his departure comes after the Lord telling him to move on.
“Our decision to transition is solely because we believe that God has ordered our steps,” Johnson wrote in a letter to the congregation. “As a family, this has not been an easy decision, and to be quite honest not one we looked for, but one that we truly believe God has ordained.”
Throughout the letter, Johnson spoke fondly of the church and of the community which he said warmly embraced him and his family.
However, articles released by the Philadelphia Daily News cited growing discontent between the congregation and Johnson as the reason for his departure.
According to the Daily News, some of Johnson’s congregation has been critical of his management of church funds. Johnson allegedly refused to provide details about the church financials and ignored past requests for an audit. In July, the Daily News reported that Johnson agreed to an audit after deacons confronted him about ignoring their audit requests.
In addition, Johnson rescinded plans to build a school and community center in the John Wanamaker Middle School property, instead choosing to work with the Bridge of Hope Development Corporation and the Goldenberg Group to build the $100 million student housing complex, The View at Montgomery.
Johnson also came under fire after announcing he was running for mayor in January. Parishioners said that when he was hired he pledged he would stay away from politics.
Shortly after his announcement in which he withdrew from the race, the Daily News reported that Johnson had used connections to get his children admitted to the Penn Alexander School, a K-8 school which is outside of the school district where he and his family live.
Furthermore, the Daily News reported some parishioners were angry about the unexpected resignation of the assistant pastor, Reverend George F. Taylor, who has served for 48 years, after a meeting with Johnson.
Johnson and staff members did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Larry Pinder, who has attended services at Bright Hope for the past 11 years, said he he enjoys the church’s relationship with the community.
“[Johnson] is a good pastor and great man, and I’m sure the next pastor will be just as great,” Pinder said.
John Lolley, a senior journalism major, said he started attending masses after moving from Chester to Philadelphia.
“It is a great church with positive energy and nice people,” Lolley said. “I hope the best for the pastor after he leaves.”
There will be a reception for Johnson at “The View,” a banquet venue at 800 Broad St., on Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. They will honor his seven years of service at the historical church. Tickets to attend the event are $40.
The 103-year-old Bright Hope Baptist church has become a cornerstone for the community, and has hosted many famous guests like Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. In addition, it has launched many community programs such as Operation Lifeline, which aids senior citizen members, and the Bright Hope Survival Program, which addressed the needs of the poor and homeless. It also established a sister Bright Hope church in Moyamba, Sierra Leone.
Under Johnson’s leadership he launched several new ministries including the The Arc of Save Haven HIV Ministry, which supports affected with HIV or AIDs, and the Business Owners Ministry, which supports the growth of spiritual and ethical business of church members.
In 2007, Johnson and Bright Hope also hosted the first Democratic Presidential Forum in North Philadelphia which Hillary Clinton and other candidates attended.
Details about the next pastor of the church have not yet been publicly released.
Mariam Dembele can be reached at email@example.com
Sonji Milburn contributed reporting.