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Pastor Justina Knuckles Sergeon – A Journey of Faith!

Mar 11, 2024 10:00AM ● By Dr. Eric Nzeribe, DBA, MS

Pastor Justina Knuckles Sergeon’s journey of faith and perseverance is a narrative that transcends borders, wars, and personal trials. Born in Liberia and thrust into the throes of civil unrest at a young age, Justina and her family fled their homeland due to the civil war. They sought refuge first in Côte d’Ivoire, then Sierra Leone, before settling in the United States in 1994. This migration began a new chapter in her life that would see her evolve from a refugee to a beacon of hope and spiritual leadership within the Lutheran Church.

From a young age, Justina felt a divine calling to pastoral ministry, inspired by her father. Her faith was nurtured by her parents, Justin Knuckles Sr. and Rosamond Knuckles, who were actively involved in their church back in Liberia. Despite the upheaval caused by the war, her faith and commitment to the church remained steadfast, a constant thread that guided her through the challenges of resettlement in America. She became deeply involved in the Peoples’ Community Lutheran Church in Baltimore, a congregation founded by Liberian refugees (including her father, who was a founding member.) It quickly became a home away from home for many, including Justina and her family.

However, Justina’s path to pastoral ministry had doubts and challenges. At one point, despite her deep-seated calling, she decided against pursuing seminary education, content with serving as a lay leader. This decision stood until a profound spiritual experience at a conference, where a scripture from Ecclesiastes 5:4, “When you make a vow to God, do not forget to fulfill it,” resonated with her, reigniting her resolve to fulfill her calling. 

Another profound moment in her journey happened during a trip to Wittenberg, Germany for the International Women’s Seminar during the 501 Reformation celebration in 2018. Walking in the footsteps of Martin Luther, standing before the door he nailed his 95 Theses, and hearing the stories of Women of the Reformation, Justina made the decision to enroll in seminary, trusting that God would make a way. On the morning of the Reformation celebration at Castle Church, Justina experienced God’s peace and presence, affirming her decision. 

Justina’s journey to becoming a pastor was also shaped by her personal circumstances, notably being a single mother to four daughters. The logistical and financial challenges of seminary education loomed large. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic provided an unexpected opportunity for her to undertake her studies online, allowing her to balance her family responsibilities with her academic pursuits. 


Her faith and commitment were further tested yet strengthened by a return visit to Liberia for an International African Lutheran Conference held by the African National Ministries of the ELCA. This trip, her first since fleeing the country as a child thirty years ago, was a deeply transformative experience; it allowed her to reconnect with her roots and serve as a bridge between her congregation in America and the African Lutheran community.

Justina’s story culminates in her ordination on Reformation Sunday and subsequent appointment as pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Laurel, MD, a role confirmed through the congregation's unanimous vote. This achievement is a personal triumph and a historic moment, as she became the second Liberian female ordained in the ELCA. The history she shares with Rev. Agnes Bryant Gbardoe, pastor of Elect Saints Lutheran Church, New Jersey, who is the first woman to hold such a position.

Through her narrative, Justina embodies the essence of perseverance, faith, and leadership. Her journey from a war-torn Liberia to pastoral leadership in the United States is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the transformative power of faith. It underscores the importance of trusting in God’s plan, even in the face of adversity. It highlights one individual’s impact on a community, bridging cultures and fostering hope and resilience among those facing similar trials. Justina’s story is her own beacon of light for others, demonstrating that faith, perseverance, and community support can overcome the greatest obstacles.  

A Momentous Celebration  

Justina celebrated her birthday and graduation, a convergence of milestones that underscored the joy and gratitude of the occasion. She graduated from United Lutheran Seminary with her Master of Divinity and received the Buechner Excellence in Preaching Award. She said, “This award is a reminder that it is God who qualifies the call,” remembering the doubts, negative thoughts, and voices in her head telling her she was not good enough to be a pastor. Dancing to the song “Finally, It’s Happening to Me” by Liberian artist Candy Adams, Justina celebrated the achievements of the day and the fulfillment of God’s promises in her life. This celebration was hers and shared with her parents, children, extended family, and friends, who witnessed the culmination of her hard work, faith, and trust in God. 




The Ordination

The ordination of The Rev. Justina Knuckles Sergeon was more than a ceremonial occasion; it was a profound moment of spiritual surrender and overwhelming peace amidst the whirlwind of life’s demands and personal struggles. Justina grappled with various responsibilities and challenges in the weeks leading up to this pivotal day. Illness impacted her, not once but twice; it added to the pressure of finalizing the ordination preparations. 

Yet, in this crucible of stress and fatigue, a transformation occurred. Justina spoke of kneeling during her ordination, as the Bishop laid hands on her, and the song “Order My Steps in Your Word” was sung by Fargeleh Slober. This was a symbolic gesture of surrender; she felt like every burden she carried was laid at the cross. This act was physical and spiritual, deeply emblematic of her laying down her struggles, doubts, and fears before God. She described the sensation as a weight being lifted from her shoulders, a profound relief that transcended the mere physicality of her actions. It was a moment of absolute surrender when she entrusted every aspect of her life and ministry to God. 

The culmination of these events brought Justina to a state of peace that was both unexpected and profound. On the morning of her ordination, everything fell into place despite the anticipation and the myriad of issues that had arisen — technical difficulties with the church organ, challenges with printing the bulletins, and even minor mishaps with printed materials. Solutions emerged as swiftly as the problems had, each resolved issue serving as a testament to God’s presence and providence. This divine orchestration brought an overwhelming sense of peace to Justina, a peace that, as she described, “surpasses all understanding.”  Akin to the peace she experienced in Wittenberg, Germany when she decided to enroll in seminary.

This peace was the absence of turmoil and a deep, encompassing presence that filled her heart and mind, affirming that everything would work out as intended. Even when things did not go according to plan, Justina found solace in believing it was all part of a greater design, a divine assurance that she was exactly where she needed to be. The day of her ordination, thus, transformed her from a time of anxiety and overwhelming responsibility to one of celebration, unity, and divine peace. 




Surrounded by her family, friends, and congregation, Justina relished the tangible manifestation of God’s promise of peace. On Reformation Sunday, October 29, 2023, Justina was ordained by the Rev. William “Bill” Gohl, Bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod. (She previously served as the Administrative Assistant to Bishop Gohl) The theme ‘To God be the Glory’ was befitting for the occasion and a testament of what God has done. The service was filled with uplifting music by Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Choir. Justina’s beloved song, Ava Maria, was sung by her daughters and nephew who are members of the Johns Hopkins Peabody Children’s Choir.

In his sermon, Bishop Gohl described Justina as a ‘daughter of the Reformation,’ recalling “the process, the journey that has led to this day, the communities that shaped and formed and supported her. Now God has called her into a new season, the second part of her story – former things are passing, new things I declare to you.” (Isaiah 42:9) Justina also received a Reformation stole gifted by her parents and a chasuble made by her mother.

Justina reflected on God’s providence, and how everything came full circle for her. In Germany, she made the decision to enter the seminary. After graduation, she traveled to Germany, stood at the doors where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses, and worshiped in Castle Church, where she offered prayers of thanksgiving for what God had accomplished in her life. Pastor Justina Knuckles Sergeon’s ordination story is a testament to the journey of faith, the act of surrender, and the peace that comes from trusting in God’s divine plan.

Dr. Eric John Nzeribe is the Publisher of FunTimes Magazine and has a demonstrated history of working in the publishing industry since 1992. His interests include using data to understand and solve social issues, narrative stories, digital marketing, community engagement, and online/print journalism features. Dr. Nzeribe is a social media and communication professional with certificates in Digital Media for Social Impact from the University of Pennsylvania, Digital Strategies for Business: Leading the Next-Generation Enterprise from Columbia University, and a Master of Science (MS) in Publication Management from Drexel University and a Doctorate in Business Administration from Temple University.

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