It took 13 years, and enduring about 300 rejections of her proposal, but on Tuesday Apostle Mary Johnson finally got a “yes” to the question she’s been asking Jackson County Commissioners repeatedly through the years, always phrased the same way:
“God, Yahweh, sent me before the county commission requesting free counseling for the public on a voluntary basis, granted you give me space to use once, twice, or three times a week.”
There would be a few seconds of silence after that, followed by the chairman’s familiar reply: “Sorry, Apostle Johnson, there’s no action at this time.”
But on Tuesday, the board informed Johnson of their decision in a budget session last week to open up such a space for pastoral and secular counselors that have the necessary credentials and liability insurance. Johnson and others that qualify can use a meeting room in the Marianna library once a week to counsel others.
Johnson receives people at her house, some 20 individuals right now, who seek her guidance in matters of marriage, problems of various sorts, and life in general. She said she limits her counseling to talking with her visitors about what the scripture of the Bible has to say on the troubles they present.
An ordained minister, she holds a pastoral counseling license.
Johnson has been unwavering in her quest for the public space, saying she has been strongly compelled by a higher power to do so.
When the county shifted to Zoom meetings in the shadow of COVID-19, Johnson went on the site for the first time in her life, asking her question from a distance as the meetings progressed toward their conclusions and her spot on the agenda.
She’s been there, under “Other Matters” for all those 13 years, sitting through hours of meetings, when sessions were open to the general public attending live, to get to that 20-second appeal-and-rejection that had become a ritual of the meetings.
She has missed only two live sessions: One of those was held during the time she was grieving the death of her mother and making the necessary arrangements for burial, and the other one she missed because she didn’t know where to go: That was the first time the county met at a different location because of damage to their building during Hurricane Michael.
Throughout all these years, she was almost always the last order of business before the board members did their traditional round table portion of the sessions, where each commissioner has a chance to bring up matters not stated on the written agenda.
On Tuesday, with meetings still Zoom-only for the general public, she was invited to be there live.
She may have had an idea what was coming, but she wasn’t told exactly why she was asked to be there.
She made her appeal as usual that day, but the chairman had a new answer for her.
She was all smiles as the news was delivered that yes, they’d found a place for her and others seeking to bring comfort and guidance to others.
Did she ever get discouraged through the years? Oh, yes, she said, there times she really didn’t want to make the trip and take the time to stand there one more time and hear the words “no action.”
But she says the force that compelled her also gave her assurance that, one day, the answer would be yes.
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