The Rev. Harold Greene Johnson Sr., 66, pastor of the North Bethesda United Methodist Church since 1981, who in the mid-1960s became the first black pastor of an all-white Methodist church in the Washington area, died of cardiac arrest Aug. 7 at his home in Bethesda.
In June 1966, Bishop John Wesley Lord of the Washington Area of the Methodist Church appointed Mr. Johnson pastor of Bells Methodist Church in Camp Springs.
The appointment made headlines in area newspapers. On June 19, 1966, he preached his first sermon at Bells, exhibiting a ready, friendly smile and a charismatic manner. In the coming weeks, Mr. Johnson successfully coped with both a visit to services from the Maryland Ku Klux Klan's Exalted Cyclops (who fled the church before Mr. Johnson entered) and a slight decrease in church membership.
Mr. Johnson remained pastor of Bells until 1972, when he was named district superintendent of the North District of the United Methodist Church in Baltimore. After six years in that post, he became pastor of Millian Memorial United Methodist Church in Rockville, where he served until becoming pastor at North Bethesda.
He had served as treasurer of the Wesley Foundation at Howard University. He also was a member of American University's trustees board and the board's development committee, and had chaired the university's student life committee. He had served as chairman of the scholarship committee of the United Methodist Church's Conference Board of Ministry. Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes had appointed him advisory council chairman of the Employment Security Administration.
He was the author of numerous works dealing with the Methodist Church, history and theology, and had contributed articles to the New York Amsterdam News, the Pittsburgh Courier and various church publications. He was a member of the NAACP, the Urban League, the Masons and Black Methodists for Church Renewal.
Mr. Johnson was a native of New York City. He was a graduate of St. John's Univeristy and the New York Theological Seminary. He earned a master's degree in religious education at New York University. At the time of his death, he was a doctoral candidate at the Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. Mr. Johnson was ordained in 1941 and moved to Washington in 1945.
Between 1945 and 1950, churches he served included John Wesley AME Zion, Kingman Park AME Zion and Plymouth Congregational Church in Washington. He then spent 14 years as a computer programmer at the Pentagon. Returning to the church, he was associate pastor at Hughes Memorial, then pastor at Simpson Memorial churches before becoming pastor at Bells.
Survivors include his wife, the former Dorothy McKoy, of Bethesda; two sons, Darold McKoy Johnson of Washington and Harold Greene Johnson Jr. of Gaithersburg; his mother, Emma I. Johnson of Takoma Park, and a grandchild.