Theology scholar Sarah Kathleen Johnson has always been interested in religion and Christian worship. In her pursuit of education, her many different involvements at Conrad Grebel University College deepened, clarified and expanded those interests through courses, innovative chapel experiences and late-night conversations.
Because of her inspiring creativity, thoughtful dedication and unique contributions to the Mennonite church, Grebel’s alumni committee has selected Sarah Kathleen Johnson (BA 2007, MTS 2008) as the recipient of its 2020 Distinguished Alumni Service Award.
Johnson is currently completing a doctorate in liturgical studies at University of Notre Dame, Ind. She is a visiting fellow at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre and her dissertation title is “The roles of Christian ritual in increasingly nonreligious and religiously diverse social contexts.”
“Sarah’s work bridges the academy and the church, as is evidenced not only in her leadership of the Voices Together hymnal project,” says Kyle Gingerich Hiebert, the theological centre’s director, “but also in her doctoral dissertation, which is an ethnographic study at the intersection of liturgical studies and sociology of religion.”
Johnson’s research and expertise has been employed by MennoMedia in the development of Voices Together, the new Mennonite hymnal from MennoMedia. In a nomination letter to Grebel’s alumni committee, Amy Gingrich, executive director of MennoMedia, commented on Johnson’s diligence. “In addition to curating an expansive set of written worship resources, Sarah crafted a vision for worship resources that included the introduction of visual art in the hymnal as a way to broaden the experience of worship resources in our collection.”
Jeremy Bergen, director of theological studies at Grebel, adds: “In her leadership role for Voices Together, Johnson has been at the centre of a very careful process of listening to the diversity of expressions across our churches, examining a dizzying array of potential hymns and worship resources for inclusion, and charting a way forward that is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition and sensitive to present context.”
“It has been profoundly rewarding,” says Johnson, “to facilitate a collaborative process that brings people together from across the church for important conversations about who we are, where we come from and who we are called to be in the years ahead, and especially to consider how these questions about identity and purpose intersect in concrete and embodied ways with what we sing and pray and do when we gather for worship.”
Johnson has also worked with a binational team of volunteers to develop Together in Worship, a website designed to support Anabaptist leaders with free online resources such as lyrics, prayers and visuals.
“It is hard to imagine what it would be like to work on Voices Together and Together in Worship without the formation I received at Grebel,” Johnson says.
After graduating from Grebel, she has been a guest lecturer in classes, a teacher of several Anabaptist Learning Workshops and a workshop leader at the Ontario Mennonite Music Camp, and has been published in The Conrad Grebel Review.
The 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award will be presented in the 2020-21 academic year.