UMC Pastor wins Dickinson City Council seat
By Lindsay Peyton
Pastor Johnnie Simpson Jr. adheres to the belief that faith should not be constrained inside of church walls. That’s why the congregation he serves, Faith UMC in Dickinson, makes outreach a top priority. It’s also at the heart of his reasoning to run for office this November. He was sworn in to Dickinson City Council Position 1 on Dec. 14, 2021.
“I’m a strong proponent of the church on the public square,” Simpson said. “I feel like the church should be involved.”
But that involvement should focus on issues, not candidates or parties, he clarified. “The Bible tells us to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry and clothe the naked,” he said. “The Bible tells us over and over again to get involved, to care for people.”
In seminary, Simpson was fascinated by theologian Rev. Reinhold Neibuhr, who often discussed the intersection of religion, politics and policy. The pastor also quoted Karl Barth: “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both.”
“John Wesley said, ‘The world is my parish,’” Simpson added.
The pastor considers it his duty to be involved. He has long been active in local government, serving as treasurer of the Galveston County Long Term Recovery Group, president of the Dickinson Management District and member of several civic committees.
“In sermons, I would often say, there’s a lot of focus on national news, but the issues are controlled by local government,” Simpson said. “Your city council, mayor and school board affect your day-to-day life more than who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The pastor began attending civic meetings after he was invited to give an invocation in the beginning. Instead of leaving after the prayer, he would stick around – and would often raise his hand when volunteers were needed.
“The more I got involved, the more I wanted to be involved – and the more people would ask,” he recalled. “I was available and willing to serve.”
When Position 1 opened, Simpson filed for election. “I was discerning right until then,” he said. He asked for guidance from mayor of the City of La Marque Keith Bell, who is also a pastor in the Texas Annual Conference.
Simpson also sought input from members of the community, his district superintendent and his wife, Rev. Lataya Simpson, Associate Pastor at Bellaire UMC. Everyone encouraged him to keep moving ahead.
In the initial special election for the seat, held Nov. 2, Simpson received 603 votes, 49.3 percent, while his closest opponent received 484. Still, 50 percent of the votes was a requirement.
“I was nine votes away from not needing a run-off,” Simpson said. When the runoff election was held Dec. 7, he won 60.3 percent of the vote, a resounding victory.
Now that the campaign is behind him and he has been sworn in, Simpson is ready to get to work. His plan is to focus on infrastructure, economic development and improving the quality of life in Dickinson.
“I just want to be able to make a change where my feet are – and that’s the city of Dickinson,” Simpson said.
As Faith UMC moves into a new year, the focus will remain on feeding the community and helping those in need, the pastor added. The church participates in the Dickinson Ministerial Alliance’s distribution of 15 tons of food each month.
Faith UMC also spends much of its energy supporting children. For example, at the beginning of the school year, there’s an annual distribution of new clothes. In the summer, the congregation serves as a site, where students and their families can pick up breakfast, lunch and snacks for youth, who would otherwise rely on school meals, and their families. This program is made possible through a partnership with the Houston Food Bank and Galveston Food Bank.
“Pretty much all we do outside of Sunday sermons and Bible studies is outreach-based,” Simpson said. “And that’s what I think the church should do.”
He also opens Faith’s doors for city government and town hall meetings. “We are doing what the church has been called to do,” he said. “You see the word ‘church’ in the Bible, but it’s never about a building. It’s always referring to the people.”