Carthen Mentored Them, Now They Advance His Vision

Bret Widman and Joy Johnson have been crossing racial divides.

Bret Widman and Joy Johnson have been crossing racial divides. Photographer: TJ Lee, former Fuller managing editor

SACRAMENTO, CA (January 19, 2016) — (Editor’s note: The January/February issue of the Covenant Companion features stories of mentoring relationships. This web-only article highlights the deep and unexpected impact one mentor made on two very different people.)

We don’t always choose our mentors; sometimes it almost seems as if they were chosen for us. Nor can we foresee where that relationship will lead.

For Covenant minister Bret Widman, pastor of River Life Community Church in Sacramento, it was the late Sherwood Carthen, pastor of Bayside Covenant Church of South Sacramento, who would change his life. “I’m still trying to figure out why Sherwood invested in me,” Widman told Fuller magazine. “I only knew him for five years, and I still can’t figure out why I got grabbed by the back of the neck!”

Carthen had invited Widman to participate in a Micah group, a formation group for preachers organized through the Fuller Seminary Ogilvie Institute. Its dictum was seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

Sherwood Carthen

Sherwood Carthen

Also attending the group was Joy Johnson, who grew up in a Baptist tradition and who says she had ignored the “still, small voice” that she might be called to do more than serve in the background at her church as she had done for years. In her tradition, there were few female black leaders. Still, for 15 years, Carthen had prodded her to listen to the voice until she finally decided to attend seminary and seek ordination.

The Micah group focused on building honest relationships among preachers in the group, which meant overcoming barriers and dealing with difficult, sometimes uncomfortable subjects. As the relationships grew among the participants, the walls began to crumble.

One Sunday, a vanload of parishioners from Johnson’s church attended River Life to hear her preach and meet the congregation. On another weekend, Widman taught at a cohort member’s Korean church retreat.

When Carthen died suddenly in 2013, Widman and Johnson were hit hard. Widman said, “I remember Joy saying, nobody is going to step into his shoes because they’re too big, and it’s going to have to be many of us that do that.’ Those words landed for me.”

Widman recalled how Carthen had told the Micah group a story about how Sacramento had been formed in 1839 during the Gold Rush. It was a time filled with greed, lawlessness, disease, and racism. He also told them about the ministers of different traditions who banded together to share the gospel and to vehemently protest against the racist treatment of Chinese immigrants and black migrant workers, as well as other groups. They also pushed for California not to be a slave state.

When Widman recalled the story told by his mentor, he shared it with Johnson, who had founded and still leads a ministry that teaches life skills to more than 1,000 residents in two apartment complexes. The story became a stirring reminder to keep walking the difficult road of reconciliation and to bring others along with them.

It was a road Carthen had prepared them for.

topic: church and race,

More of Widman and Johnson’s story can be found at the Fuller magazine website.

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