“The Lord Spoke to Me, Clear as Day: ‘This Is the Place’”

Drew Theological School remembers the Reverend Dr. Johnnie G. McCann, Sr. T’93,’95,’01.

September 2019 — Drew Theological School is mourning the passing of The Reverend Dr. Johnnie G. McCann, Sr. T’93,’95,’01.

McCann joined the Drew Theological School community in 1991 when his mentor and future father-in-law, the Reverend Dr. Shellie Sampson Jr. T’71,’77, encouraged him to visit Drew, and even drove him to see the campus for the first time. The day of that initial visit, over 25 years ago, McCann experienced an inner voice affirming that Drew was his future home. “The Lord spoke to me, clear as day: ‘This is the place,’” recalled McCann in a recent interview.

This was only the beginning of Drew’s journey with McCann.

That decisive moment certainly proved to be providential. McCann enrolled at Drew Theological School with a full scholarship, earning three graduate degrees: Master of Divinity, Doctor of Ministry and finally his Master of Sacred Theology.

Out of gratitude for all Drew had given him, McCann became a prolific recruiter for the Drew community. He also became an adjunct professor of Baptist studies and pastoral formation, recruiting and mentoring untold numbers of African-American Theological School students who have gone on to serve in churches, large and small, throughout the United States and abroad. “Johnnie McCann is singularly responsible for sending over 100 students to Drew Theological School,” said Dean Javier Viera. “And equally as remarkable was his generosity of spirit and financial resources for his alma mater. Dr. McCann modeled for us all what it is like to maximize the benefits Drew has to offer, as well as what it looks like to give back to this place that so deeply impacted his life and ministry.”

The Sampson-McCann Scholarship had its genesis in 2015 at a gathering of Drew alumni and their friends at the annual Hampton University Ministers’ Conference in Hampton, Virginia. The group decided a scholarship named in memory and honor of Sampson and McCann was the perfect way to pay tribute and carry on his legacy of church-building, outreach and educational ministries, and community development. This scholarship provides financial support to Master of Divinity students pursuing social justice work in primarily urban, African-American churches and communities in the United States.

Drew alum Melaine Rochford T’16, who credits McCann for bringing her to Drew, used the award to help pay for her final semester at Drew. “If I can follow in their footsteps, and the path they’ve already blazed,” she says of Sampson and McCann, “then I think I’d be doing something great.”

The Rev. Dr. Kevin D. Miller T03,’08, a McCann recruit to Drew himself and Drew’s current Director of Theological Admissions equally notes, “Dr. McCann’s impact and mentorship has helped shape Drew’s future. Because of his commitment to educational excellence, he encouraged many of us to believe we would be better equipped for ministry by attending Drew. Dr. McCann was right.”

Dr. J. G. McCann was Drew’s ambassador in the New York Metropolitan area. With unrivaled love for the church as a pastor and for Drew Theological School as a graduate, he led countless numbers of ministers to consider the idea of their own call and to matriculate in one of Drew’s many theological degrees,” said Gary Simpson, associate professor of homiletics at Drew, as he remembers his longtime friend and colleague. “He shepherded many to and through the call to ministry. A major void now remains in his untimely passing.”

Now the scholarship McCann helped establish is making it possible for future generations of students of color to answer their own calls to the ministry at Drew. To contribute to the Sampson-McCann Scholarship fund in McCann’s honor, please visit drew.edu/makeagift and click on “Tribute Information.”

Drew Theological School is a community of scholars, ministers and activists that for more than 150 years has been educating rooted, innovative and courageous leaders for service to the Church, the academy and society. 

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