Johnson Service Corps: Celebrating 20 Years

by Christopher Goodlof

Johnson Service Corps (JSC) started over 20 years ago as a ministry at Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. JSC’s namesake, Margaret Johnson, a longtime Chapel of the Cross parishioner, was passionate about young adults and spiritual formation. After she passed away, Johnson left funds to the church. Following a lengthy discernment to find the best use for money, in 1999, the Johnson Intern Program, JSC’s predecessor, was formed.

“The core values have been the same,” said JSC Program Director Andrew Hudgins, “but how that’s lived out has changed a little bit over the years.”

In 2005, The Johnson Intern Program became an independent 501c3 while retaining affiliation the Chapel of the Cross. Since that time, the name has been changed to Johnson Service Corps and the organization branched out to Durham, North Carolina as well as their original Chapel Hill location.

The Fellowship

A yearlong fellowship, JSC breaks up their faith formation into two halves: the first half covers the inward journey, the latter half, the outward journey.

JSC’s 2020-2021 Corps.

“It’s focused on reflection,” said Hudgins, “self-assessment, becoming aware of our own bias and position in the world, and various world views and perspectives, talking about things like power-with rather than power-over people.

“If you don’t do your own personal work first, the inward work, it makes it really hard to do the outer work really well. Great inner works precedes great outer work.”

In the fall, fellows are focused on their inward journey, but come January, the focus shifts outward toward justice and equity.

Each cohort picks the topics they’re interested in or perhaps know little about, and find people in community doing that work, recent topics have included Indigenous land history and criminal justice reform.

With methods based on the Church of the Savior in Washington D.C.’s “wisdom tradition of Christianity” teachings, JSC employs contemplative spiritual practices like breath prayers and mediations, emphasizing establishing a weekly rhythm.

“We try to help our Corps members build what we call a ‘bucket’ of spiritual practices that they can integrate into their life,” said Hudgins.  “Some are going to be ones that take 20-minutes and then a lot of them are just something that you can set a reminder on your phone a few times a day, just two or three minutes to re-center yourself.”

Service in the Community

JSC fellowship partners are community organizations spread across the state of North Carolina. JSC parters with the Durham Children’s Initiative, an organization offering tutoring, toys for kids, and college application/job help among other things.

JSC also partners with the Center for Responsible Lending, and organization centered around federal policy, pushing for a more just lending practice, and fighting against predatory lending.

Also partnered with JSC is Code the Dream, which teaches immigrants basic coding skills for apps and websites, leaving them qualified and able to get tech-sector jobs when they finish the program.

The Pauli Murray Center, which is currently restoring Murray’s childhood home and turning it into a community center, has partnered with JSC for several years.

Finally, JSC also partners with the Compass Center, helping women and families with domestic violence situations.

Adapting for the Future

Part of JSC’s longevity comes from where it’s situated. North Carolina is a draw for many due to its beauty, as well the attractiveness of progressive oases like Durham.

“Be here,” said Hudgins, “give back, and invest in the next group of Corps members coming in. A lot of alumni serve as mentors for our later generations of Corps members.”

JSC has been developing and adding resources and supports. The organization has been looking at better ways to compensate Corps members and make the program more accessible to young adults of all backgrounds. Recently, JSC added group therapy to this year’s curriculum – each house meets with group therapist once a week to process conflict and tension among their housemates.

“That’s been a really valuable tool that we’ve introduced this year,” said Hudgins. “I think it also helps normalizing the stigma around getting therapy for mental health.”

For so many reasons, Johnson Service Center is here to stay. With over 20-years of service under their belt, and their ability to adapt to the changing times, JSC continues to assist their community and grow.