“That’s a horrible reality, still,” he said.
But Johnson is on a mission to change that with the planting of TriWorship Covenant Church in Federal Way.
About one year old, TriWorship is a multiethnic church with a focus on reconciling diverse ethnicities as one of its central values, among many others.
So far, the church has between 35-40 diverse members and meets every Sunday morning at Saghalie Middle School.
“I heard the Lord affirm the need for a multiethnic church in the midst of the race tensions in the nation,” Johnson said. “I heard God tell me that it wasn’t an accident that the cracks opened up in exposing some of the ugliness of racism at this moment.”
Johnson said the opportunity and need for a multiethnic church is emerging out of that, “because until the church is unified, it’s going to be difficult for the world and the community to be unified.”
Johnson planted TriWorship, which identifies as the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination, after shifting from the African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination. The Evangelical Convenant Church is a multiethnic denomination that promotes inclusion, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church is a predominantly African-American Methodist denomination that is the oldest independent Protestant denomination founded by African-Americans.
After being assigned to Washington state from Kansas City, Missouri, where he grew up, Johnson spent six years at Walker Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Central District of Seattle.
He said he was excited to be put into a community that was so diverse, compared to the “all-black neighborhood, all-black schools” he grew up in, because it aligned with his heart of reconciliation.
“My first encounter with people of the other race would be in high school, and that was the result of an integration project that the school district had going on,” Johnson recalled, adding that the district bused students to a school that was more racially diverse but was still “lower class.”
“So even though we were different ethnicities, we had a common identity as we dealt with some of the same things, and that was my first encounter with this ideal of reconciliation.”
In Seattle, Johnson thought he would be able to work toward that ideal but encountered several barriers. While the church was welcoming to all people, as many were intrigued with the black church and would come to “hear the good black church music, good black preaching; the spirit and emotionalism that we bring and the intellectualism and theology,” there was some pushback to being more accommodating.
“The church was a place where we’ll be who we are; we’ll welcome you, we love you, but we’re not going to change,” Johnson said, referring to the Walker Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, whose cause is liberation.
Another barrier was the name of the church. Johnson said he would invite people to the church and they would reply that they didn’t think it was the church for them because of the word “African” in the church’s name.
Eventually, Johnson determined he couldn’t go forward in the church even though he was on a pathway to promotion, had many opportunities within the church, and considered them his family.
Johnson and his wife, whom he met in Washington, left the church and decided to start TriWorship in Federal Way, which is the second Covenant church in the city. Planting the church in Federal Way was special not only because they live here but because Federal Way is one of the most diverse communities in Washington state, he said.
With the theme “Out of many, One church,” TriWorship’s goals are to reconcile people to God, equip people for their purpose and send compassion into the world.
They’re also involved in social justice ministry. Last year, the church partnered with the Black Alliance Movement in Tacoma for a community forum on the Ferguson, Missouri, unrest.
And although the church has a good amount of members, Johnson said the demographic is mainly white, black and biracial.
“We’ve had a Hispanic community but we desperately want more. We want to pursue more of the Hispanic community and Asian community,” he said, adding that the church wants to see more of all in the community. “We believe it’s possible and doable.”
Johnson believes the idea of a multiethnic focus in churches is a contagious vision because people want to see unification, and he pointed to the Black Lives Matter movement as an example.
While Johnson believes the way to get there is through a multiethnic church, he also feels very passionate about people of color in leadership roles within the ministry.
“I think that this is a paradigm, a paradigm shift, that needs to be intentional and embraced fully for us to get to a true, reconciled community,” he said. “It’s just part of the journey, and I believe that we are where we can see that happen and we should want to make that happen. We shouldn’t rest until that happens because that is a goal of reconciliation.
“We can walk hand in hand as brother and sister in a community, no matter what flavor or color the leader is.”