By Melissa Lauber
If you want to know the real Johnsie Cogman, watch her direct a gospel choir. Heart and soul, she leans into the music, abandons herself to the Spirit and calls forth beauty, joy, suffering, and redemption. It’s glory come to life.
In July, the Rev. Johnsie Cogman will be taking those same instincts for collaborative leadership and applying them to her new appointment as superintendent of the Washington East District.
She follows the Rev. Rebecca Iannicelli, who has been appointed by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling to serve the Annapolis District as superintendent.
Cogman admits that she tends to address life and ministry “whole-heartedly” and with a smile. The smile is intentional, she said; a way of addressing the world with joy.
Cogman doesn’t take that joy for granted. At times, in fact, it means more to her because it was forged in a refiner’s fire crafted from a series of tragic circumstances.
Before entering the ministry, she worked as an officer in the US Air Force. At every assignment, from Michigan to Japan to Delaware to the D.C. area, she served with the base chaplain, directing the choir and providing pastoral care to service members and their families.
In that service, she began to sense a call to ministry, but wore out a lot of running shoes running from her calling, she said.
Part of the reason for her running was anger. It began in 1986, with the death of her adopted mother. Two years later, she ended her marriage to an abusive husband. And less than a month later, her three-year-old son Stevie died.
Two years after that, her biological father, whom she had gotten close to, died. Then her newborn daughter Bianca died.
Two years after that, her twin sons, Jacob and James were born. They have grown to be exceptional young men. But when they were young, Cogman was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer.
One of her friends was also diagnosed with cancer around the same time. “She’s not here anymore, but I am,” Cogman said.
This incident, and God’s continual and insistent call upon her
“When you see so much evil, hurt and sadness in the world, people need to see my joy,” she said. “They don’t need to know my story, but I hope my story – and my smile --- connects with theirs.”
The same day that Cogman’s father died, in 1990, she was scheduled to speak at a Toastmaster’s competition. She was representing her district and felt like she would let people down if she
Her speech was on power. She called on God, asking for the courage to do what she needed to do. She delivered the speech and won.
She also heard God that day.
“I heard God clear as day,” she said. “God said, ‘I told you to inspire people with my words, not your words. So now, go.’”
She did, but she also placed demands on God to show her signs of God’s presence.
Each time, she said, and even today, “God continues to show God’s self. God is doing remarkable things.”
One of these remarkable things is the way her twin sons, who are now finishing up their theological studies, have answered their own distinct calls and are certified candidates for ordained ministry in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
Another remarkable and beautiful part of her life is her relationship with her husband, Billy. “I could not be without him,” she said.
Cogman also sees God’s hand in her being chosen to serve in this new capacity in the district in which she started her ministry in The United Methodist Church.
Cogman has served Zion Wesley UMC in Waldorf; Bells UMC in Camp Springs; and Mt Zion UMC in Georgetown.
She is excited about the possibilities of working with the clergy and laity of the Washington East District and the discovering the many ways they can, working collaboratively, ensure that churches are vital to the community and making disciples in creative and innovative ways.
Throughout it all, she’ll carry a song with her. Her favorite, she said, is Eddie James’ “You’ve Been So Faithful.” The lyrics say, in part: “I can never repay You Lord for what You
“I am very humbled to be invited to serve at this table,” Cogman said.
Cogman and Iannicelli begin their new appointments July 1.
Iannicelli has also been chosen by Bishop Easterling to be the new dean of the Cabinet. She follows the Rev. Conrad Link, who is retiring as the superintendent of the Cumberland-Hagerstown District, June 30.