When Arla Johnson finally said “yes” to God, she moved beyond career aspiration and found her views transformed

A Baptist Minister walks into a bar and then – think you know what happens? Think again.

It was 25 years ago that God started tugging on Halifax Distilling Co. owner Arla Johnson’s heart strings. She wasn’t sure where she was being pulled, but God kept tugging.

She finally said “yes” and enrolled in the Atlantic School of Theology five years ago. (Arla hates to admit that it took her so long to say “yes” to God!) 

The Master of Divinity program is designed primarily, but not exclusively, for persons preparing for ordained or professional ministry. It can be completed full-time over three years or part-time over seven years, with foundation courses in scripture, theology, pastoral studies and worship inaugurate. 

Arla returned to school at “the tender age of 52,” as she puts it. “So as one can imagine, it had been some time since I was in grad school! I didn’t even know how to insert a footnote from a Word doc,” Arla says about the difficulty of managing her time with five courses, plus working full-time. 

Arla’s heavy schedule didn’t last. She soon reduced her course load until it was cut down to two courses – which she calls her “sweet spot” – while working full-time as the co-owner/operator of Halifax Distilling Co. 

“We laugh and say it is all about the ‘spirit’ of things!” Arla jokes.  

Needless to say, with her busy schedule, Arla opted for the seven-year trajectory. 

“I believe my biggest success was saying ‘yes’ to God and enrolling. ‘Just showing up,’ our yoga instructor often reminds us. We need to give ourselves credit for just landing on our mats. The work on my mat is not always pretty, just as my papers are not always the best in class. However, I am there, learning and doing the best I can! Folks often ask me what I plan to do once I finish, and I just say, ‘I’ll go where God calls me to go,’” Arla says. 

In the final year of study, the Graduate Project and Seminar in the Practice of Ministry enables students to design and undertake significant pastoral research in conjunction with a self-selected field setting. 

This ensures that students encounter and wrestle with critical bodies of knowledge and develop skill sets in each of the pastoral, theological and scriptural fields of study. 

This is where Arla experienced the most positive impact – within the new, freeing awareness and compassionate understanding.

“Any time a professor or fellow student challenged my narrow views or encouraged me to think beyond my preconceived assumptions and beliefs – this is where the transformation occurs. These impacts are what help transform churches, workplaces and our communities,” she says. 

Completing this Master of Divinity degree at AST will allow Arla to apply for ordination and also offer an opportunity to work in chaplaincy, hospital work or prison ministry. 

“However, personally, my studies have helped me move beyond career aspiration and offered me a state of grace to move closer to God. The closer I am to ‘Listening for The Heartbeat of God’ (J. Philip Newell) the better I am able to embrace the sacredness of our creation and the sacredness of each one of us. We really all are pilgrims and journeying together,” she says.