News Story

New Adelaide Latter-day Saint Bishop a Leader for the Times

In March 2020, Adelaide man, Clive Johnson, experienced two momentous changes in his life.

One was the COVID-19 pandemic, and the other was that he was called as bishop for his congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A Latter-day Saint bishop is the leader of a local congregation (known as a ward) with duties similar to those of a pastor, priest or rabbi. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this position is unpaid.

Each bishop is assisted by two counsellors. Together, this bishopric oversees the spiritual and social needs of their ward members. The bishop helps each member of his congregation in their efforts to follow Jesus Christ. In addition to spiritual matters, a bishop helps members who are struggling financially or in other ways to become self-reliant through welfare assistance. A bishop also oversees practical matters such as records, reports, finances and the meetinghouse where members meet. Bishops typically serve for about five years.

Things started out a little differently for Bishop Clive Johnson.

From L to R: Levi Johnson, Tohree Johnson, Abbie Townsend, Brenda Johnson, Bishop Clive Johnson, Paris Johnson (taken Sunday 8 March 2020)© 2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

He was sustained as Bishop of the Onkaparinga Ward in the Adelaide Australia Marion Stake (similar to a diocese), on 8 March 2020. He held his first bishopric meeting on the Thursday after he was sustained, and at 7:47am the next day he received official notification that all Church meetings had been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. For the rest of that day, his phone rang constantly.

Bishop Johnson is no stranger to service. He has served in his local community, including in the lay ministry of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in various capacities throughout his entire adult life. At the age of 18 he was called to serve as a full-time missionary in the Australia Sydney Mission, from 1983 to 1985.

Having been called to the office of bishop a few weeks prior, Bishop Johnson had some time to prepare for and ponder over his new responsibility. He was able to formulate some plans for the ward prior to his sustaining.

However, all that changed on the morning of Friday, 13 March 2020.

"I feel strongly that the timing was truly inspired,” he said. “February was marked as the [Church’s] ‘Come and Help’ [community service] month and the South Australian bushfire crisis all happened within that same period, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. If I was sustained anytime other than that particular Sunday, the local Church landscape would have looked completely different for me."

Bishop Johnson's first thoughts were for the many in his congregation who may have been overcome with fear and uncertainty due to the unprecedented circumstances. He emailed a message of love, comfort and encouragement to Church members so that on Sunday, despite not being able to gather together in person, everyone could be informed of the extent of the situation.

The email included words of encouragement for the members, including the invitation to keep the Sabbath day holy and to continue regular study of the scriptures — especially the Come, Follow Me curriculum and The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In addition, he urged Church members to “place any fears they may have at the Saviour's feet.”

A typical Sabbath day during the current pandemic starts early for Bishop Johnson, he says, “with checking for any official notifications from the Church.” The Johnson family then gather for “an egg and bacon breakfast cooked by my beautiful wife” followed by some family time.

“We are able to catch up as a family, as this is probably the only time of the week where we are all together,” Bishop Johnson says.

Scripture study follows, then he checks in with ward members and attends to ministering and administrative needs.

The family gather again later in the day to partake of the sacrament, followed often by watching various videos from the Church's semi-annual worldwide general conference, or other devotionals from the Church's website.

An early highlight for Bishop Johnson was being able to conduct some baptismal ordinances, after receiving special permission to do so, given that Church buildings had been otherwise closed amidst the pandemic. Working with the full-time missionaries to perform these saving ordinances was fulfilling for all involved.

“The priesthood leaders and other organisation leaders of the Onkaparinga Ward have really made the process of assimilating into the COVID-19 situation quite an effortless endeavour,” Bishop Johnson said. "They are very proactive as well, which makes the ward function nicely. The ministering efforts are countless and, for a larger ward, have come together seamlessly—especially in the beginning."

“The whole experience so far has been extraordinary. Meeting together with the saints face to face again is something I'm really looking forward to. Seeing them in person once more, and feeling of their spirit, is much anticipated."

Bishop Johnson continues to regularly seek inspiration to connect with his members despite physical isolation.

“Witnessing the efforts of the saints and the leaders,” he says, “seeing the work go forward in this unique period, and feeling the guidance of the Holy Ghost in the work that I am called to do has been phenomenal.”

Newsroom Contributor: Tony Lawry

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.