On Sunday morning, the Rev. LaMont Johnson will preach his first Easter sermon at West Durham Baptist Church, but it won’t be his first sermon. A preacher’s kid, Johnson always knew he wanted to go into ministry, answering the call to preach at 14 and ordained by the local Baptist association at age 19. His father is still a pastor, and his late mother was an organist and pianist. Johnson has followed both his parents’ paths.
Johnson grew up in Orange, New Jersey, and came South for undergraduate school at Virginia Union University in Richmond. He went on to receive graduate degrees from Shaw University, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and Drew University. He’s currently a doctoral candidate at N.C. A&T State University, which happens to be the biggest rival of N.C. Central University, just down the street from West Durham Baptist.
More than half of West Durham Baptist’s members are NCCU alums, and just about all are Eagles fans. Johnson recognizes this and while he has an Aggies cup on his bookshelf, he knew to use the colors maroon and grey for his installation service on April 2. U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat and an NCCU alum, was at that service, and Johnson welcomed him by saying that the church supported NCCU. And yes, he can do the Eagle hand gesture.
For his Ph.D. from A&T, Johnson is focusing on transformational leadership styles of seminarians at six HBCUs, including Shaw. Johnson said he has always wanted to teach, and would gladly teach at Shaw, NCCU or Duke Divinity School.
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“I have a passion for the generations coming behind me,” said Johnson, who just turned 38. “I just kind of want to see what doors open.”
Average weekly attendance at West Durham is about 150 to 170, judging by the number of bulletins handed out. The sanctuary has new carpet and is lined with artistic stained glass windows. Stained glass at the front and back of the sanctuary, a colorful geometric pattern, will be replaced later this year. The sanctuary seats about 500. There are three associate ministers on staff as well.
“The church is ideally located for growth,” Johnson said, just down the road from NCCU.
While he hasn’t lived previously in Durham, Johnson is quite familiar with it, having been a denominational consultant for Souls to the Polls for the N.C. NAACP, which is headquartered in Durham.
To say I’m socially conscious is an understatement.
Rev. LaMont Johnson, new pastor of West Durham Baptist Church
“To say I’m socially conscious is an understatement,” he said. Johnson quoted N.C. NAACP President William Barber about wanting not a show horse, but a workhorse. Johnson describes himself as a workhorse. Still new, he’ll take time to see where he can best serve. There are three other churches in close proximity to West Durham Baptist, including Mt. Calvary United Church of Christ, and he’d rather work together than duplicate outreach.
Johnson said that if you are in the right church, it’s a family. He loves church and church music. At West Durham Baptist, their general organist is NCCU senior Amadi Denny, and on the first Sunday of the month, Grover Wilson, who recently retired from NCCU, Johnson said.
Johnson is classically trained vocally with the New Jersey State Opera Association, he said, as a youth. As an organist and pianist, he loves hymnody and hymnology, the studies of hymns and the stories behind hymns. Hymns done right don’t necessarily have to be scored, he said, but rather sung with some type of connection to the words of the songs.
His favorite hymns include “Great Is Our Faithfulness,” “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Lead Me to Calvary.”
He’d like the church to eventually be seen as “the most contemporary traditional church in Durham County.” That’s not an easy task, he said, but with God’s help thinks they can get there. “This is a hub of faith of strength and of worship,” he said.
Easter at West Durham Baptist
WHERE: West Durham Baptist Church
1901 Athens St., Durham
WHEN: 10 a.m. Sunday, April 16. The music and liturgical dance ministries will present a cantata, “Our Risen Savior,” during the worship service.