Greeting Christian Friends,
Johnnie Lee Wright is an ordained elder in the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. My college sweetheart, Annette Lavern Graddick, whom I call, “My Bride” has been my wife for forty years and nine months. We have three adult children: Stephanie Wright Lavern Houze, Ashley Lynnaire Wright, Johnnie Lee Wright III and a granddaughter, Amerson-Joi Lynnaire Wright.
I am a native of Saint Matthews County, South Carolina and attended the public schools there. Once I graduated from high school, I enrolled in Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a minor in science. After Annette’s graduation we got engaged and I began working in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System teaching and coaching.
After a short period, I left the education system and entered the retail world before our wedding 1979. Once married, we remained in Charlotte and I enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Master’s program in education and earned a Master’s Degree in Human Development and Learning with a concentration in School Administration that would lead me to be a principal. When I graduated from UNCC in 1981, our third year of marriage, we were blessed with our first born, Stephanie. At that period in my life, I thought that I needed to return to retail for more stability although “My Bride” was working but obligations were more challenging with a newborn. We accepted the blessing from God. I was soon promoted to retail store manager in Charlotte after several years.
We were enjoying the blessings and looking ahead to making some changes, however in 1987, we were blessed with the birth of our second child, Ashley. I continued to work in Charlotte for several more years. The funny thing was that on my job, I was constantly asked by my customers in the store “Are you a pastor?” My immediate response was “no”, would that be cash or charge? Shortly after Ashley’s birth I was offered another store but this time it was in Concord, North Carolina. Surprised, but gave God the glory for a larger volume store. The issue was that I had to drive thirty miles one way to work, but it gave me the opportunity to talk to God daily. I felt a calling in my life, but it did not weigh heavy on my heart. After moving to the new store, some of the new customers raised the same question concerning me being a pastor. My job was going well, sales were improving, and had a great team when I was approached about transferring to another store for another promotion. The opportunity was greater with sales volume, but it was in Durham, North Carolina. At first, I did not want to leave the Charlotte area but after discussing it with “My Bride” we thought it was a blessing for the family. Our first born, Stephanie was ill and, in the hospital, and that was on my mind however I had to make a decision. So, I moved immediately to Durham and lived in a hotel for several months. It was our busiest season in retail in 1991. I will never forget this because it was on election day and I went by the hospital to see my family. I left crying and talking to God all the way to Durham until I got to the new store and met my new team. In essence, I was a little distraught over Stephanie’s illness and being in the hospital. The month of November, the transition and the sales were all coming together when the bottom fell out.
On Friday, December 19, 1991 I got the call from my “Bride” that Stephanie was critically ill with seizures in the hospital in a coma and probably would not make it through the night. It was shocking! I felt like my breath left me momentarily. Again, I was extremely busy because it was a week before Christmas, therefore no store manager could take off any time until after New Year’s Day. As a manager I had to show strong commitment and presence to my employees. I took a break to think. I went to the cafeteria and ordered Friday’s special fish plate. I ate, cried, and prayed. The spirit of God moved within and I had an epiphany. I came to my senses knowing exactly what my next move would be.
I returned to the store and finished working while quietly praying between customers. Once I closed the store, I went by Pizza Hut, ordered myself a meatball-sub and took it to my hotel room located across from Duke. After the meal I got down on the floor, talked to God and prayed like I never did before. I promised God that if he allowed Stephanie to live, I would stop running from the call. It was that night through all the tears that I felt a sense of calmness and relief. The feeling was one that I had never felt before under the presence of the Holy Ghost. I confessed my sins and disobedience in not answering the call I heard fifteen years earlier.
Christian Friends, I knew that God had called me back in 1976, but I refused to hear, listen, or respect the call. Introspect, I did what another person in the Holy Bible did; “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so, he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.” (Jonah 1:1-3). It was fifteen years that I ran from my call and it cost me greatly, but this time I was ready. I must admit, when you run out of options and you must make a decision that will affect you and family. In this case my own flesh and blood, Stephanie was critically ill in a hospital, so I turned to for help and it was Jesus. Why? Because, Jesus said, “you cannot get to the Father except through me.”
The next morning on Saturday, December 20, 1991 I tried to contact “My Bride” but could not reach her. Minutes passed, I prayed and called Charlotte’s ICU, but no one answered. I waited, redialed, still no answer, so I hung up and started walking out of my office when the telephone rang. It was “My Bride” and she said, “We are home.” I got weak in the knees and sat. She said, “A miracle happened in ICU last night while praying with my prayer warrior, Stephanie came out of the coma and was fully recovered. The doctors examined and released her then shook their heads.” She is home doing well and ready for breakfast.” I personally felt Jesus had interceded for Stephanie. “My Bride” and the prayer warrior were there. I felt that God heard my honest confession and commitment to following the call placed on my life in the upper room on the third floor of that hotel on Friday night.
Before lunch that Saturday I left Durham and journeyed home. I stayed that evening with them although Sunday was extremely busy at the store. There was only one thing left for me to do and that was to answer my call to go, and serve, so I started the process of becoming a servant or preacher, but God did the rest. Not long after our Christmas season the company decided to close their chain of stores and I was not totally surprised because we had experienced some great years. In retrospect, I felt God had a sense of humor, because he allowed me to be transferred to Durham as manager of the largest retail store in my district and then I lost my job. We had a meeting of the minds, my wife and me. I shared with her my story about the promise that I had made to God. I said that God kept his Promise and restored, healed, and lifted Stephanie from a bed of afflictions, now I must keep mine. “My Bride” was so affirming and said, “Now it’s time for you to go and do what God called you to do so many years ago, I am tired of telling you the same thing.” I started the process of improving by reading the Bible, meditating, fasting, listening to more Gospel singing and preaching, walking, talking, thinking, and re-committing my life to the church. Soon afterwards I became a candidate for ministry. I went through interviews and was invited to the pastor’s school for licensing. I took time with my pastor, mentor, and finished the process, applied to Duke Divinity School in 1993 and was accepted.
I started Duke Divinity School and my called ministry in the United Methodist Church; My open internacy followed these sequences: I was appointed to a ministry in Southeast Raleigh and a two-point charge in the Rockingham District at Saint Peter (Wagram) and Fletcher’s Chapel (Hoffman), afterwards another two-point charge Mount Zion (Red Springs) and Wall’s Chapel (Bowmore) in the same district. My next appointment was a three-point charge in the Sanford District; Mount Olive (Lillington) McQueen’s Chapel (Lemon Springs) and Union Grove (Broadway). Westover (Raleigh) was our next appointment followed by Mebane (Mebane) , our last appointment before coming to Havelock. In the middle of my appointments our last child, Johnnie III, was born in 1998 in the Sanford District and, in 2011, while in Raleigh our first granddaughter, Amerson-Joi Lynnaire Wright, was born.
My call to ministry is close to thirty years. I truly felt that over these decades I have been faithful to my promise on the Friday, December 19,1991 to go, serve and tell them the Good News of Jesus Christ. In short, I bring you my personal call and commitment and these four motifs that are important to me: Congregation, Children, Community and Christ. The Congregation is the key for the work of the church; the Children because Christ invited them to come; the Community who will see, hear and know all about us, therefore we want to be intentional about spreading God’s Good News to the public, and we must remember Christ. The summation of my ministry is involving all four of the above.
How do we collectively harness these skills? I want to listen to the heartbeat of the congregation and their involvement with each other in God’s house. Next, I want to listen to the stories of the children and their involvement. When the
children are in love with the church it grows. They will share their desires to be a part of worship and other activities. The community must believe in the church and the leaders. The faith and trust level in the word and work of God in the community must have long arms to encompass more than members on the roll of the church. Finally, all this must be undergirded with the Trinity. More importantly, Jesus must lead in our hearts. We must have the agape love for us to succeed and include all.
I look forward to being one who will walk and work beside you in brotherly and sisterly love, in the Spirit of Truth.
God Bless You.
Servant of Christ,
Reverend Johnnie Lee Wright II