Who are the Presbyterians that have done justice, loved mercy and walked humbly with God? Who has brought the church’s voice for justice to the public square? This new section of Streams of Justice will name these saints, witnesses and advocates. Their ministries have formed part of the church’s public witness for justice.
Dr. Heather Erika Johnston (1930-2014) was a lifelong ecumenist and justice-seeker. Born in Coelbe, Germany, her Lutheran clergy father was forced to choose between state and church and became one of the founding members of the “Bekennende Kirche” – the underground church in Nazi Germany.
After the war Heather became a translator and began work for the Refugee Department of the World Council of Churches and later, for the Lutheran World Federation. She married a Canadian Presbyterian minister – Dr. John Johnston – and moved to Canada. They had three children: Andrew, Ian and Mary.
In 1975, Heather attended and became the first Canadian woman elected to the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee. One of the more difficult aspects of her WCC work was with the Program to Combat Racism (1979-1983): “some church leaders were so harsh. How could I persuade them that all people, regardless of colour, gender or religion are equal? It was very difficult.”
Heather’s passion for justice expanded to include global economic justice. In the 1990s she founded Oikocredit Canada – part of an international ecumenical organization that supplies loans for people in the Global South at reasonable lending rates. Shareholders accept a lower dividend and support initiatives of fair trade, co-operatives and other means of ethical investing.
Heather was the first lay President of the Canadian Council of Churches and the first woman and lay person to be conferred with the Honorary Doctor of Divinity by Knox College in Toronto.
Heather’s justice legacy is seen through the ongoing work of the ecumenical organizations she served, supported and founded. We give thanks for Heather’s life and ministry for justice!