Faith Focus: The Rev. Dr. Nora Johnson

The Rev. Dr. Nora Johnson is used to being busy — as both a priest at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia and a professor of English at Swarthmore College.

Johnson, 53, oversees the adult education and formation ministries at Saint Mark’s, teaches a class for the Christian sacraments of conformation and baptism, runs Sunday forum and regularly presides at normal church services.

“I’d say it’s 50-50 between my pastoral work and educational work at the church,” Johnson said.

Pastoral care at Saint Mark’s is shared amongst Johnson and five other priests.

“We all try to work with everybody. In general, I do a lot of work in educating adults in the parish,” Johnson said. “I really love hearing where people have been and where they are now. There can be a lot for people to talk about and pray through. But for me, I see it as a joy, not a challenge.”

According to Johnson, Saint Mark’s has long been accepting of LGBTs.

“I think coming to an Episcopal church is an advantage; we have been working on LGBT issues for 40 years in a very public way,” Johnson said. “There were many resources for me when I came to Saint Mark’s. There are out people who have been working here for years.”

Johnson said her experience as a teacher at Swarthmore has enabled her to be a better pastor in certain ways.

“As a teacher, I get to think with people and explore new ideas with them. I’m used to listening to them, getting inside their own ideas and figuring out what it is they are trying to move towards,” Johnson said. “Teaching, writing and literature is very pastoral in a way.”

Johnson was ordained in 2013 after a long time spent away from faith.

“I was raised Catholic and was a devout Catholic throughout my youth,” Johnson said. “But when I came out in my early 20s, I put my faith aside for a while to figure out how to be a human being.”

It wasn’t until she began teaching at Swarthmore in 1994 that she began to explore her faith again.

“I came into the Episcopal Church and saw right away that it was going to be a spiritual home for me,” Johnson said. “I felt a calling to leadership right away.”

Now, Johnson happily balances both jobs as a priest and teacher.

“I love both of these full-time vocations. I feel called to do both,” she said. “Bridging the academic world and religious world is important work to me.” 

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