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Rev. Kevin Johnson

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Rev. Kevin A Johnson has served as pastor and co-founder of Bloom in the Desert Ministries, a United Church of Christ and Reconciling Ministries congregation in Palm Springs, California since 2003. From 1976– 2013 Johnson was an ordained pastor (deacon/elder) in good standing in the United Methodist Church (UMC). In September 2013, in order to honor the sanctity of his pending marriage and remove the ecclesiastical threat of being brought up on charges for marrying his partner of 15 years--Michael Shear--Kevin withdrew his ordination credentials (after 37 years) from the United Methodist Church. He sought and was granted full ministerial standing and privilege of call in the United Church of Christ.

Kevin graduated from United Theological Seminary (Dayton, Ohio) in 1978 after serving as president of the student body in his senior year. While in seminary, he co-founded an Evangelical Caucus support group on campus and was an active member of the touring choir, United Sound. For two years, he was the student associate pastor of Grace UMC in Piqua, Ohio. Prior to seminary, Kevin spent 10 years in various ministries starting at the age of 19 as a Boy Scout summer camp chaplain while in university.

Upon seminary graduation, Johnson was appointed associate pastor of the 1200-member Kenosha First UMC in the Wisconsin Conference. His ministry involved youth, single adult and general education programs. Mission trips and mountain expeditions were alternating yearly highlights of the program, which grew from three attendees at the first meeting called by Kevin towhat became the second largest youth group in the conference. He was also did visitation, community outreach, plus was a regular worship leader, preacher, and choir member. Kevin was ordained Elder and accepted into full membership of the conference clergy in June 1979.

It was in Kenosha, October 1981, that Johnson was "outed" by a breach of confidence while quietly coming to terms personally with being gay. Upon learning the news of Kevin’s orientation, the 9-member Kenosha First UMC Pastor Parish Relations Committee immediately voted to have Kevin leave the parish by December 31, 1981. Since Kevin was an ordained Elder in good standing and a full member of the Wisconsin Conference with unquestioned rights to a guaranteed appointment at that time, Bishop Marjorie Matthew’s sought to honor his credentials and make another full-time appointment. Bishop Matthews, the first female bishop elected in the modern mainline church, worked with her district superintendents for five months trying to make an appointment. Five Wisconsin congregations were approached and each acknowledged the credentials and experience that Kevin would bring to the parish. However, they decided not to consider the appointment of an "out" gay pastor.

As predictions of an intentional, negative national publicity campaign were made, Kevin decided to release the stalemate and requested Leave of Absence status, which was granted. He moved to Chicago on April 1, 1982, to begin a new life as a businessperson. Until 2013 Kevin faithfully maintained his relationship with the Wisconsin Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. 

As an out gay man, he worked within Broadway UMC in Chicago and the Reconciling Ministries Network to live out his call to ministry while working day-to-day as an independent video producer and businessperson. However, Kevin increasingly heard his primary call to ordained ministry. The opportunity presented by the formation of the inclusive, progressive Church Within A Church Movement in the UMC, which was founded in February 2002, afforded Kevin and Broadway a way to start a new ministry with Kevin’s leadership. In May/June/July of 2002, Kevin and his partner responded to God's prodding by resigning their jobs, selling Kevin’s condo and most of the contents, then moving to Southern California’s Coachella Valley to start Bloom in the Desert Ministries.

Prior to his move to California, Johnson played an active leadership role at Broadway UMC, a congregation that declared itself in "constructive engagement" with the UMC following the 2000 General Conference negative votes pertaining to legislation regarding sexual orientation. Kevin chaired the Broadway’s Future Task Force of 11 persons who developed and facilitated a congregational process by which Broadway made the January 2001 decision to remain United Methodist. In other areas Kevin was active as co-chair of Broadway’s Reconciling Ministries Committee, a member of the Education Committee and a regular participant in the Church Council and Congregational Meetings.

Johnson also spent 20 years working in the Chicago business community. Prior to his return to full time ministry, he was vice president of marketing for Quicksilver Associates, a woman-owned business communications company producing meetings, video, multimedia and Web-based business solutions. Through the years Kevin served on the board of directors for Meeting Professionals International Chicago Area Chapter, the communications committee of The Executives’ Club of Chicago and the steering committee of Chicago’s Woman’s Business Development Center.

Kevin developed the vision for the Bloom in the Desert ministry over two years. As Kevin states: "Like we used to say when I was a student pastor in Ohio, the Holy Spirit’s ‘conviction’ grew ever stronger in me. A clear picture developed in my mind that I could not shake off. In that picture, I saw myself standing in the desert, in my white robes, hugging people. To me this meant that the Spirit would not rest until I had made the decision to move to the desert to do ministry. Since the decision was made, the ‘peace that passes understanding’ has confirmed my faith that this is what I am supposed to do as a new phase of life."

As commissioned by the Broadway UMC and endorsed by Church Within A Church Movement, Kevin and Mike co-founded Bloom.  They began weekly Sunday morning worship services on March 9, 2003 in the outdoor Rose Garden of Palapas Art Garden and Nursery in Palm Springs, California. Since June 27, 2004, Bloom’s Sunday worship services have been held at Palm Springs’ Demuth Community Center with an ever-growing congregation.

Following the adoption by the congregation of church bylaws, Bloom in the Desert Ministries was officially welcomed into full relationship with the United Church of Christ on October 29, 2005. In 2007, Kevin was granted dual standing in the UMC and UCC as pastor of Bloom in the Desert Ministries.  In 2013, Kevin and Bloom in the Desert’s congregation celebrated the 10th anniversary of its founding with representatives of Broadway United Methodist Church and the UMC Church within a Church movement in attendance.

In 2012, Kevin was accepted into the Doctor of Ministry program of the Advanced Pastoral Studies program of San Francisco Theological Seminary.  In March 2017, after completing coursework in 2016, his dissertation topic, “Making the Covenant Work, Gay Pastor Welcome.Com” was approved.

During his 15 years in Palm Springs, Kevin has become a recognized leader in the secular community as well as the faith community. 

Community Leadership:

  • Acted as religious community consultant to union organizing actions seeking to bring better wages and working conditions to tribal spa, hotel, and casino workers.
  • Led a three-year community organizing effort to change Palm Springs zoning laws affecting land use for churches to be more friendly to non-traditional, smaller and new-start religious institutions seeking operating space within the city, which culminated in an ordinance passing the City council unanimously in early 2014.
  • Was elected to the Board of Governors of John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio, California, for an 18-month term beginning in June 2013.
  • Served on numerous planning committees for community-based LGBTQI events and actions.

Faith Community Leadership:

  • Served three terms as Coordinator of the National Coordinating Team of the Church Within A Church Movement, wherein he was a catalyst for the adoption of a process for Extraordinary Ordination offering the professional credentials of ordained ministry to persons seeking the Wesleyan heritage minus the closet.  
  • Served as vice president of the West Valley Interfaith Association for several years and continues in participation.
  • Awarded 2007 Peace Day honor by local Veterans for Peace chapter for the work of the Palm Springs Peace Pole organizing.
  • Led a year-long interfaith community project to “plant” a Peace Pole on January 18, 2008, in the Palm Springs Downtown Village Green.  This effort was funded by more than a dozen local faith groups.
  • Served one year as member of Executive Committee of Eastern Association of the Southern California Nevada Conference of the UCC.
  • Elected delegate for Southern California Nevada Conference to the General Synods of the United Church of Christ in 2013 and 2015.  
  • Invited to serve as the “righteous gentile” in multiple annual Shaoa services observed in the Coachella Valley.  
  • In 2013, elected to the Church and Ministry Committee, Section A, of the Eastern Association of the Southern California Nevada Conference of the UCC. Re-elected to a three-year term in 2014.
  • Co-founded with Rabbi David Lazar of Temple Isiah, Palm Springs, the Annual Interfaith Pride Welcome Shabbat on the Friday of Palm Springs Pride Weekend in November.
  • In 2016, invited to participate in the Patient and Family Advisory council of Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.
  • Participates in local interfaith organizations as member and officer.
  • Writes occasional columns in The Desert Sun on topics of social justice, progressive Christian thinking, and LGBTQI rights.

In June 2016 Kenosha’s First United Methodist Church voted to identify as a Reconciling Ministries Congregation. Shortly thereafter they issued an invitation to Kevin and his husband, to join them in a Weekend of Reconciliation scheduled for February 4-5, 2017. The congregation overwhelmingly agreed that the first step in becoming an RMC was to issue an apology for the 1981 decision to fire Kevin as pastor for being an out gay man. Kevin and Michael accepted the invitation and participated in an emotional and cathartic weekend in Kenosha. Kevin preached on Sunday, February 5, during a festival service that also saw the introduction of “The Kenosha Declaration”which is a statement urging other churches who dismissed out LGBTQ+ clergy to reconcile with them publicly as a means of healing.

(This biographical statement provided by Kevin Johnson.)

Additional Resources

Web Site:  www.bloominthedesert.org

Biography: February 7, 2003