By Kirk Petersen
Openly gay Episcopal bishops have served in the dioceses of New Hampshire, Los Angeles, New York and Maine, and have been elected in Michigan and, on November 23, in Missouri.
Yes, Bible-belt Missouri, a slave-holding border state during the Civil War, has elected a gay, black immigrant to serve as the XI Bishop of Missouri. The St. Louis-based diocese shares the state with the Kansas City-based Diocese of Western Missouri.
The Rev. Deon K. Johnson, who currently lives in Michigan with his husband and two children, was elected on the first ballot from a slate of three candidates at the 180th diocesan convention. Assuming he receives the required endorsements from more than half of the diocesan bishops and standing committees, he will be consecrated April 25, 2020. He will succeed the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith, who has served as diocesan bishop since 2002.
In the profile he wrote prior to the election, Johnson said he was born in Barbados, and emigrated to New York at the age of 14 with his older brother — leaving their mother and grandmother behind. After graduating from General Theological Seminary, he served as associate rector at a church in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and for the past 13 years as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton, Michigan, about 40 miles west of Detroit. He described the church as having “a long history of social activism particularly around the inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons, tackling food insecurity, and youth and young adult engagement.”
“I am overwhelmed with joy, humility, and gratitude,” Johnson said to the convention from his home in Michigan. “The Holy Spirit has brought us to this day, for such a time as this. I am looking forward to walking with you as we share the liberating love of Jesus. My husband and our family are looking forward to being with you in the new year.”
Others on the ballot were the Rev. Stacey Fussell, rector at Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Bradford, PA; and the Rev. George D. Smith, rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Glen Ellyn, IL.