DEADWOOD — Father Michael Johnson has known since the age of 12 that he was meant to enter into the ministry. But he had no way of knowing that his life’s chosen path would lead him back to familiar territory – Dakota territory and Deadwood, the place that he considers home.
Johnson officially began his service to the parishioners of St. John’s Episcopal Church Dec. 1, 2012. But he is no stranger to these parts.
“I lived here 10 years in the late 70s and early 80s,” Johnson explained. “I lived in Deadwood three years and at a ranch in St. Onge for seven, where I worked for the Ridleys.”
Although he was born in Northern Minnesota and made his return to Deadwood from Moorhead, Minn., Johnson considers Deadwood home.
“Over the years, whenever someone would ask me where I was from, I would find myself saying ‘Deadwood,’ and then following up with, ‘But I was born in …’ It feels great to be back. I feel like I’ve come home.”
While in Deadwood, Johnson was heavily involved in the arts, putting his college focus on theatrical scene design and lighting to work at the Little Summer Theater that was formerly housed in the Black Hills Mercantile building. He subsequently helped found the Company of Fine Arts.
Prior to living and working in Deadwood, he was selected to be a lighting technician for world mime Marcel Marceau in Paris, France, where he then went on to study at Marceau’s International School of Mime.
Johnson was a professional mime for five years while living in the Deadwood area and was the mime in residence for the State of South Dakota through the South Dakota Arts Council.
Johnson also taught theatrical scene design and mime at Black Hills State University and Shakespeare classes at Ellsworth.
Johnson became an ordained minister in 1988 and was ordained in the Episcopal Church in 2005.
“Most recently, I was the vicar of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Moorhead, Minn., where the parish consisted of approximately 250 Sudanese refugees,” Johnson said. “I was also an associate to the Bishop at the cathedral in Fargo, (N.D).”
Over the years, Johnson has been largely connected with international ministry.
“I’ve traveled overseas on missions work 28 times,” Johnson said. “I’ve smuggled bibles into the Soviet Union, I’ve been to Rwanda shortly after the genocides and I’ve been to Ireland 13 times working with the Catholic protestant issue there.”
Johnson’s first order of business will be to encourage and build up the local church body.
“I want to provide outreach for people in the community who are hurting or wondering what their life is all about,” Johnson said. “I want St. John’s to be a light in the community where people can be strengthened in their faith.”
His special area of emphasis?
“Turning people on to the word of God,” Johnson said.
His favorite bible verse?
“Psalm 107:21. I just stand in awe of what God has done for human kind. It’s just fresh and new daily – John 1:14,” Johnson said.
A special afternoon of fellowship and the opportunity to meet Johnson will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20 at the V.F.W., in Deadwood. That morning, the bishop of South Dakota will attend the 9:30 a.m. service, which will be dedicated to welcoming the new ministry to St. John’s Episcopal Church. The public is invited to attend both events.
“This congregation has been such a blessing,” Johnson said. “When I arrived, 10 people were waiting to help me unload my van. They’ve all been so welcoming and encouraging. They have been a true blessing to me. I’m so thankful to be a part of this.”