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    Couple devote lives to the lost

    They live simply and move frequently. But it's worth it to work for "the church of last resort,'' the Salvation Army pastors say.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 28, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- The older women in the pews wore crisp uniforms, skirts and hats. The men sitting beside them wore spotless blue uniforms.

    photo
    [Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
    Jacquelynn Johnson preaches as her husband comforts a woman praying.
    They listened as the pastor asked them to recall the last time they had been in the halls of shame, and if they were willing to be like Jesus and get a little dirty and go places where no one else is willing to go, where sinners lurk and poverty reigns.

    He wanted to know if they would assist the down and out, the losers, the lost.

    Could they love the unloved?

    The sparse, mostly senior crowd of Salvation Army soldiers listened Sunday as one of the new pastors, Roy Johnson, 46, give the sermon at the Salvation Army worship center at 1625 N Belcher Road.

    "Does anybody in the congregation have problems?" he asked.

    No response.

    "Do me a favor," he asked them. "Turn to the person next to you and pinch them on the arm."

    Laughter.

    "Good," Johnson said. "Just wanted to make sure you're awake."

    On June 24, Majs. Roy and Jacquelynn Johnson were appointed by Florida Divisional Commander Lt. Col. Donald Faulkner as pastors and corps administrators of the Salvation Army in Clearwater and Upper Pinellas County.

    "We're thrilled," said Roy Johnson. "It's a tremendous opportunity."

    Orval Taylor, a commissioner with the Salvation Army, said the couple has been "well accepted" by the congregation and community.

    This is a homecoming of sorts for the couple, who lived in Clearwater in the late 1970s and early 1980s before leaving for officer training school.

    For the past five years, they lived in Atlanta, where they served in the curriculum department at the Salvation Army's College for Officer Training.

    They replaced another couple, Majs. John and Marthalyn Needham, who left to serve as divisional leaders in Nottingham, England.

    The Salvation Army is an international Christian and charitable organization founded by Methodist minister William Booth in 1865.

    The uniformed officers and volunteers are probably best known for ringing bells in front of stores at Christmastime, asking for donations for the poor.

    The army also raises money by selling used clothing and household items at its thrift shops.

    The religious organization has been the Johnsons' life. The couple met at a Salvation Army parade in Chicago in 1976.

    "She was playing timbrel tambourine," Johnson recalled.

    Jacquelynn Johnson, 42, grew up in the Baptist faith, Roy Johnson said, but the only church he has ever known is the Salvation Army.

    His mother and father were Salvation Army officers from Sweden who came to the United States in the 1950s.

    Life wasn't easy then, and still isn't.

    "The army isn't for everybody. To be a minister, to be an officer, it's a hard life," said Johnson. "It's hard on your family."

    The Johnsons have three daughters.

    Roy Johnson said he did not want to be an officer, and resisted God's call.

    "I said, "God, I know you're there. I'll do anything but,' " said Johnson. "God was patient."

    The couple became officers in 1985 after completing 21 months of training.

    Twice each year, during May and January, it's "move time" in the army, a time when an officer can be called to serve in another facility thousands of miles away.

    But, Johnson said, "I'll probably be here four or five years."

    They couple live in a home in Clearwater owned by the Salvation Army and are given a small salary and an allowance to cover expenses.

    "The down side is it's not mine, the furniture is not mine," he said.

    But it's worth it to work for "the church of last resort," Johnson said, where the pastors are not "fussy about who comes or what they wear."

    In addition to his duties as a pastor, Johnson spends much of his time performing administration functions and managing 43 employees at Salvation Army centers in Clearwater and Tarpon Springs.

    Mrs. Johnson is responsible for planning meetings and organizing youth activities.

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