Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2009-12-08

Longtime pastor James D. Johnson of Russellville and dedicated church worker Melvin G. Cooper of Prattville have been named Samford University’s 2009 Alabama Baptist Minister and Layperson of the Year, respectively.

Dr. Johnson, 85, now in his 52nd year of ministry, has been bi-vocational pastor at Cherry Hill Baptist Church since 2001. He will receive his award during the church’s 11 a.m. worship service Sunday, Dec. 13.

Cooper, 81, has been an active layperson throughout a 27-year military career and 20 years of service as the first executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission. He will receive his award during a special presentation at First Baptist Church, Montgomery, in January.

Between the two, the honorees have given more than a century of dedicated Christian service. Both were nominated for the Samford honors by members of their congregations.

Johnson served churches in Texas, Michigan and Kentucky before returning to his native Alabama in 1974 to pastor a series of churches in north Alabama. He retired from fulltime ministry in 1988 to serve interim pastorates in Alabama and Mississippi.

Nominators for his Samford award cited Johnson’s work in rejuvenating the Cherry Hill congregation, where members refuse to heed his suggestions that they seek a younger pastor.

The most adamant of those are the younger members of the church, who constantly express their love for “Brother Jim” and their appreciation for his ministry, wrote supporters in his nominating letter.

“They especially appreciate his Bible knowledge and its application to their lives. Cherry Hill has developed into a sweet, loving, giving church under his leadership,” stated the nominators.

A unique part of each Sunday’s worship service is a time devoted to honoring and military personnel who were killed that week in combat and praying for their families and other active soldiers.

Johnson, a World War II veteran, was critically injured while serving in the Air Force infantry in Germany. A graduate of Samford and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he holds a doctorate from International Seminary in Florida. He and his late wife, Mary, had four children. Several years ago, he married Gladys Lane.

An avid Bible student and scholar, Johnson has written study manuals of the Old and New Testaments, and annually prepares January Bible study material, which he shares with other  pastors. He is a former moderator of the Franklin County Baptist Association.

Cooper has taught Sunday School or its equivalent for 63 years in churches in four states, Washington, D.C., and the Philippines, where he was stationed at Clark Air Base. He has been a deacon for 45 years, most recently at First Baptist Church, Montgomery.

A longtime member and chairman of the Alabama Baptist Christian Life and Public Affairs Commission, he has served in many denominational leadership roles and is a former moderator of the Autauga County Baptist Association. In 1981, he and his wife, Dolores, were founding members of Prattville’s East Memorial Baptist Church. The couple has three children.

To stay current on ways to minister to others, Cooper recently enrolled in courses on English as a Second Language and How to Become a U.S. Citizen. He has written many faith-based articles for Baptist publications, and taught ethics at Auburn University Montgomery and Troy University in Montgomery.

Cooper holds a law degree from the University of Tennessee, and master’s degrees from George Washington University and West Virginia University. He completed course work for a doctorate degree in international relations at the University of Alabama.

His award nominators cited his Christian service on local, national and international levels, as well as his exceptional financial commitment.

“Melvin and Dolores have been tithers since the first Sunday following their marriage,” wrote the nominator. 

Their long-kept “budget book” shows that on May 16, 1948, their church offering was $3.50, since their total income that week was $35. The couple’s tithe today is directed to First Baptist Church, Montgomery.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.