Bishop Eugene Johnson and Madison Pentecostal Assembly
Celebrating 35 Years (Part 1 of 2)
|Rev. Walter Ragland, pastor of the Appleton Pentecostal
Assembly (l-r) and Bishop Eugene
Johnson, head of Madison Pentecostal Assembly are
gearing up for their 35th anniversary.
what was going on in the city in terms of people of color, where they lived. The referred me to Percy Brown Sr. He asked, ‘What are you, a consultant?’ I said, ‘No I’
m a pastor coming to establish a church.’ He said, ‘Well the harvest is plenty and the laborers are few.’ Therefore a need was established for more laborers
because there is a lot of people in Madison who needed help. He was a deacon at Mt. Zion at the time and still is. That was the beginning, the invitation. What really
helped to confirm my calling here was his statement number one, which was the theme of my very first message. The harvest is plenty and the laborers are few.”
The second is that he immediately obtained a job through Marlene Cummings and Norrell Temporary Services to serve as the interim CEO at the Madison Urban
League. The third was a chance meeting in a fast food restaurant.
“I noticed how open Madison society was in terms of welcoming the people of color,” Johnson said. “One of the first persons I met was a white woman at Kentucky
Fried Chicken. I sat and was reading the Bible. She came over and asked me what I was reading. In Memphis and a few other places I’ve been to including Los
Angeles and Washington, D.C., no white woman had ever come up to me and asked me what I was reading. She initiated the contact. Through that, I got an
indication that the hearts of the people were soft. I could expect to get receptivity from people of color. But I didn’t expect it to be that way from a person from
another race. I didn’t have friendships and conversations on a social level with whites. That impressed me that this was a good city to come to and bring my family
to live and establish work for the Lord.”
Johnson initially moved to Madison by himself.
“I had visited a couple of churches to let them know that I was here to establish a church,” Johnson said. “I visited Mt. Zion Baptist Church and in fact, I was
homeless at the time. The person who provided me a place to live for a week or two was Richard Harris. He let me stay in the basement. Maxine, his wife who is
now deceased, was very welcoming. After them, I stayed in Rev. James’ home for a month until I got my own place. Rev. James’ wife was attending Mt. Zion. She
learned that I was looking for a place. In between those two, I did stay with a student for a month. He was the son of an apostolic family out of Milwaukee.”
And Johnson also used a borrowed church to open Madison Pentecostal Assembly in November 1983. Johnson had met Bill Wineke, religious editor for the
Wisconsin State Journal and pastor of the Wisconsin Rescue Mission on E. Mifflin Street. Wineke let him use the church.
“There were about 35 people at that first service,” Johnson said. “We baptized souls at Calgary Gospel Church, which was on Milwaukee Street. I let him know
what I was doing, coming to the city to establish a church. He allowed me to use their baptismal pool. Once we finished our services at 4 p.m., we took them over
there to baptize them. One time, we baptized a family of eight. Another time, we baptized 3-4 people. The 35 people were people who were curious. As an Urban
League director, I would go to the Black teachers’ caucus meetings. And they had one in the basement of a teacher’s home. Maize Jenkins asked me what my
profession was. I said, ‘I’m a Shepherd. I’m looking for lost sheep.’ There I was having a chance to meet them. A lot of people were curious and they came to our
On April 1984, the church moved to the basement of Securities Bank and then to the South Madison Neighborhood Center. The amount they charged the church was
too much and so they shifted to the basements of Dr. Richard Jackson, a student at UW-Madison and then Pastor Nathaniel White. The flock was growing and MPA
need a permanent church home.
They bought some land on Nygard Street in the town part of South Madison. And then a whole lot of opposition arose when the church sought a conditional land
permit to build a church on the land. At the suggestion of Jerry Hancock, MPA hired Attorney James Doyle — the future governor — to represent them.
“Jim Doyle really worked with us to work with the attorney of the neighbors who had secured a land-use attorney to oppose us,” Johnson said. “We met with the
neighbors. Prior to going to the county board meeting, we stood in the stairwell and prayed. I think that caught them by surprise. We went in and the town board
under the chairmanship of Tom Solberg voted not to allow us to build. A lot of the neighbors opposed it, Black and white. Tom Solberg said that the county board
always listened to the recommendation of the towns. They had never overturned them. But the Lord had put a friend on the county board, Bill Lunney, the husband of
Judy Pfeiffer, the head of PICADA where my wife was now working. I called Bill Lunney. I told him what we were going to do. He told us we had to talk to each of the
county board supervisors. The first one I started with was an executive assistant at WisDOT. She was Republican and conservative. But she understood me and
knew what I was trying to do. She told me to speak with the supervisor from Oregon who was the head of the Zoning and Agricultural Use committee. I talked to him
and called each of the 42 supervisors to explain my case. It was really a learning experience of how to pitch your case to the county board. After hearing my case
— and with Jim Doyle working with the attorney and the neighbors integrating their concerns into a memorandum of understanding — all of the neighbors signed on.
And when the neighbors signed on including one African American county board supervisor. She opposed us on the town board level, but by the time we got to the
county board, we had a groundswell of support including the chairman. We got 100 percent approval from the county board. I am just grateful to Jim Doyle for how
he helped to negotiate that and navigate those issues into a memorandum of understanding, which was incorporated into the conditional use permit.”
MPA may have had permission to build, but they didn’t have the financing.
“Our banker at the time, Park Bank under Bob Gorsuch, didn’t want to lend us the money even though we had $85,000 to build and needed $120,000 to build the
facility,” Johnson said. “The Lord had blessed us to get $85,000. He wanted an unconditional letter of credit, which I thought was a new hurdle that we had to
overcome. I talked to our builder Joe Daniels. He introduced me to his bank and said, ‘He’s a good guy.’ I saw how the Lord was using leverage of Joe Daniels to
obtain financing from Anchor Bank. We promptly withdrew all of our money from Park Bank. I was very upset and disappointed and even today, I will not do
business with Park Bank. They wanted our savings, but they didn’t want to lend.”
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
There is a teaching in The Bible that says, “You must lose your life in order to gain it.” In some ways,
that is what it took for Bishop Eugene Johnson to come to Madison 35 years ago to found Madison
Pentecostal Assembly with his wife Carolyn.
Johnson had a degree in business from UCLA and had made a life for himself when the recession of
the early 1980s hit. Johnson was hit with financial losses and his home was burglarized three times.
It was time to move on and with only $200 in his pocket, Johnson headed to Madison to found a
Pentecostal church and create a new life for him and his family.
There were three things that led Johnson to choose Madison. Johnson had done his research on
“I made a phone call to the city planning department,” Johnson recalled as we sat in Madison
Pentecostal Assembly’s conference room on Buckeye Road. “I asked about the demographics and