IN MEMORIAM: Hospitality House to honor late Episcopal Bishop Robert Johnson

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Durham - THE HERALD SUN By Blake Strayhorn

Bishop Johnson, Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry, Durham Habitat and I share a passion for radical hospitality.

I love to tell the story of the first time I met Bishop Curry. He was officiating the ordination of a friend, a young soon-to-be-priest, when he saw my nametag as he gave me communion. 

After the service, Curry whipped around to me, pointed at my nametag and said, “My jaw dropped when I saw your nametag. My mom was a Strayhorn. We’re cousins!” 

The Southern history of slavery and the deep roots and complexities of our family trees make it possible that Bishop Curry and I are, in fact, cousins. I’ve told him I’m sorry if my ancestors owned his, and that I’m very proud of what he stands for; he’s a favorite relative. Even if not by blood, we’re related in that we both believe all people are brothers and sisters in the human family.

Durham Habitat was founded 30 years ago by a group, including Bishop Johnson, who also believed that we’re all brothers and sisters, and that all of God’s children should have a safe, warm place to call home. I’m proud to be a current steward of the rich legacy these early leaders built. 

I admire that Habitat leaders have lived the principle “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Through this principle, Habitat has built 330 homes in Durham! And 825 of God’s children have brighter futures because of the stability their Habitat home provides.

As we work to eradicate poverty housing in Durham, we are, and aspire to be, radically inclusive. Our Faith Statement reads: Durham Habitat partners with those who share our values of love, respect, compassion and justice for all. We welcome those of any faith - or no faith - to join us building homes, hope and community in Durham. 

This fall we are continuing to preach the gospel through actions by building a Habitat home to honor one of Durham Habitat’s founders, Bishop Johnson.  Bishop Johnson articulated his vision for a radically inclusive Hospitable Diocese when he was elected Bishop in 1993.

Bishop Johnson died last year, and the Episcopal Diocese is sponsoring a Durham Habitat home in his memory, a home we’re calling the Hospitality House. Bishop Johnson’s vision inspired the Durham Habitat Hospitality House to be a house that encourages us:

  • To embrace radical inclusivity, hospitality, as the surest sign of Christlikeness.
  • To risk erring on the side of compassion and hospitality, rather than on the side of condemnation and exclusion.
  • To make all feel truly welcomed, not just invited and tolerated, but actively recruited and embraced.  There are no outcasts, no strangers.
  • To invite and encourage all Durham neighbors - regardless of race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, physical or mental ability, veteran status, military obligations, and marital status - to apply for Habitat homeownership, and to partner with us as we build homes, hope and community in Durham.  

I invite you to join - and to broaden - a Hospitable Durham Habitat Community as we honor the memory of Bishop Johnson with the Hospitality House, which we will build in partnership with the Nmawn family. 

We will kick-off the Hospitality House Saturday, October 3rd, at 8:30am at 108 Young Street.  Our program will include remarks by Bishop Curry, Bishop Hodges-Copple, Connie Johnson, and the Nmawn family, and will conclude with the raising of the first wall.

We applaud Bishop Johnson’s vision and his legacy. May each Durham Habitat home be a Hospitality Home, and may our community be a Hospitable Community. For more information or to join the Hospitality House, visit

Bishop Bob Johnson

The Rt. Rev. Robert C. Johnson served the Episcopal Diocese of N.C. for 37 years. His vision for a Hospitable Diocese, articulated in his 1993 speech to the Diocese, has inspired Habitat’s Hospitality House.

Bishop on a tractor

Bishop Johnson preached the gospel, both with words and through his actions.

Strayhorn cousins

Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry and Blake Strayhorn are related in their efforts to build bridges and community.

Nmawn family

The Nmawn family will purchase the Hospitality House. Zau and Seng are from Burma. Their son Samuel is 15 months old.


May each Durham Habitat home be a Hospitality Home, and may our community be a Hospitable Community.

Habitat Success Stories

Alicia partnered with the Catholic Coalition to build a Habitat home in Southwest Central Durham. Alicia enjoyed putting more than 250 hours of sweat equity into her home, saying "I know every beam in my house."