July 31, 2008


A God-given ability

College’s new Protestant minister eager to work with students


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Vicki Johnson of Binghamton was appointed SUNY Cortland Protestant campus minister on July 1.

Contributing Writer

For Vicki Johnson, the path that led to SUNY Cortland was a natural one.
“From the time I entered the ministry I’d thought I’d end up in campus ministry,” Johnson said.
Johnson was appointed July 1 as SUNY Cortland’s Protestant campus minister and executive director of the Cortland County Council of Churches. She will provide regular Protestant worship services on campus, something not previously offered.
Johnson, who will remain pastor of the First Congregational Church in Chenango Forks, replaces Donald Wilcox, who retired on Dec. 31 after 22 years.
“We worked over the course of the spring to identify candidates for the position,” said Anne Farrell, president of the Cortland County Council of Churches, adding there had been about 15 candidates. “We actually narrowed it down to a first round of interviews where we talked with five candidates in a telephone interview.”
Two finalists were invited to spend the better part of a day with the search committee, first for an informal interview over lunch and a tour of the campus and interfaith center, then a formal interview with the committee.
“She had all the right credentials, all the right experience, all the right enthusiasm,” Farrell said of Johnson.
The search committee presented Johnson as its selection to the Council of Churches board of directors and the board approved the selection June 17.
“I guess I sort of have an affinity for young people,” Johnson said. “God has given me an ability to communicate with young people.”
The search committee started meeting in January 2008 and included Farrell and two others from the Council of Churches’ board of directors, a representative from the Cortland Interfaith Association, two students from SUNY Cortland and the Catholic campus minister.
Johnson said she will be doing about 85 percent of her work on campus with the ministry. The other 15 percent will involve the Cortland County Council of Churches, which will require mostly administrative work.
Johnson, 50, who lives in Binghamton, said she desired a position in college ministry because of the impact it can have on the students.
“I think the years a person is in college are among the most important in their life,” Johnson said, noting that it’s a time to consider “What they are, what they value.”
The programs Johnson hopes to implement at the college include a campus-wide weekly noontime worship service held sometime during the school week.
The campus currently has Johnson as Protestant minister, a Catholic Minister, Marie Catherine Agen, and a Jewish chaplain, Sanford Gutman.
Johnson said she had no exact numbers available but that she has been told about 15 percent of full-time SUNY Cortland students identify themselves as Protestant according to a survey. The college has about 6,000 full-time students.
Johnson stressed that she wants the doors of the Interfaith Center to be open as much as possible and to establish the center as a gathering place for the campus community.
Farrell said she and the Council of Churches have been very happy with Johnson so far. Johnson has likewise been pleased with the situation.
“People have been very welcoming,” she said.
The interim minister after Wilcox was Charles Maxfield, who Johnson credited with creating a smooth transition, helping her by figuring out what Wilcox did in the position, writing it down and passing it on to her.
Wilcox was involved in grief counseling, and Johnson said she plans to continue that involvement. Johnson said she also plans to continue Wilcox’s work with Habitat for Humanity, expecting to be an advisor on campus for the program.
Farrell cited Johnson’s idea for a midweek campus service and a possible activity for Cortaca Jug weekend as examples of the impact Johnson has brought with her new look on the ministry’s interaction with campus and community.


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