Nathaniel Johnson Sr., 72, pastor of Baltimore church, worked two jobs

November 27, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Nathaniel Johnson Sr., a West Baltimore Baptist pastor who found time between working two jobs and raising seven children to cut the hair of elderly, homebound residents and to minister to the blind, died of a stroke Sunday at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore. He was 72.

Mr. Johnson was pastor of St. Philip's Baptist Church, then at 1014 N. Carrollton Ave. in Baltimore from 1970 to 1989, when he suffered the first of several strokes that left him paralyzed. The church later moved to Woodlawn Drive in Baltimore County.

He was also a maintenance supervisor at the Social Security Administration offices in Woodlawn from 1950 through 1989. He worked as a meat-cutter or janitor at night to support his large family, relatives said.

"He had a very strong work ethic and a very strong faith in God," said a son, Thomas Johnson, 47, of Baltimore. "Even when he was so sick he couldn't remember my name, he could say wonderful prayers like he was up in the pulpit again.

"His last words were, `He's coming for me,' " said the son, a safety coordinator for Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Sparrows Point. "Religion was very deep in him, and that really impressed me."

The son of South Carolina sharecroppers, Mr. Johnson served in the Army as a private during the occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1947.

He returned to Rock Hill, S. C., to marry Lurlena Barber.

The couple moved to Baltimore in 1947 so Mr. Johnson could take a job as a steel worker at Sparrows Point. In 1950, he began work at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn.

He became a minister in 1957, preaching his first sermon at Timothy Baptist Church on West Saratoga Street and becoming assistant pastor. He volunteered as chaplain of the now-closed Annie Mae Hunter Home for the Blind near Eutaw Street and Lafayette Avenue.

"He had very strong beliefs, and he lived by them," said the Rev. James L. Ball, pastor of Timothy Baptist.

Lurlena Johnson, 73, his wife of 52 years, recalled that her husband would drive to nursing homes and the homes of invalids to cut the hair of those who couldn't get out.

Services will be at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Timothy Baptist Church, 1212 W. Saratoga St.

Mr. Johnson is also survived by five other sons, Jefferson Johnson, Nathaniel Johnson, Andrew Johnson and Ernest Johnson, all of Baltimore, and Anthony Johnson of Rock Hill, S. C.; a daughter, Lillie Diana Johnson of Baltimore; 23 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

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