Covenant Ministers Reflect on Eugene Peterson’s Influence

CHICAGO, IL (October 17, 2018) – After it was announced last Friday that Eugene Peterson was entering hospice care, Covenant ministers responded to a Facebook query about how the writings of the 85-year-old pastor and author of more than 30 books, including the Bible paraphrase The Message, have been critical to shaping their lives.

“He never lost sight of his calling and role, that of the pastor being a shepherd,” said chaplain Brian Wiele. “Through his writing, he has helped many people, including myself, stay true to their vocation.”

“In the midst of a very dark time, I read his memoir The Pastor,” said Dan Whitmarsh, pastor of Lakebay (Washington) Community Church. “It gave me hope, perspective, and language to describe my situation. It probably saved my ministry.”

Barbara Vincent Ettinger, associate superintendent of the East Coast Conference, said her earliest sense of call came while reading the book of Jonah, so Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant, based on the book, was especially formative.

“To read Peterson’s book cemented and illuminated that original call in profound ways that remain with me to this day. I sometimes wrestled with the call, especially in the early days as a woman in complementarian settings. But Peterson reminded me—or rebuked me depending on the day—that the call is to serve the purposes of God and to reflect the heart of God toward his creatures. He helped me stay true to the reality that It’s Not About Me.”

Doug Bixby, pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Attleboro, Massachusetts, said the same book “helped me to see the value of vocational stability—staying in one place long enough to see and enjoy the fruit of your labor.”

Howard Burgoyne, superintendent of the East Coast Conference, said, “I’ve read and marked all of his books, and Reversed Thunder is my favorite. I was blessed to spend several days on retreat with him in 2010 where we read and discussed that volume together. He rescued me from pragmatism without spiritual encounter, or what he would call the error of Prometheus.”

Nancy Ebner, pastor of Orchard Covenant Church in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts, said that through his memoir Eat This Book, Peterson “gives his heart to the reader and becomes a character mentor through story.”

“For me, Eugene Peterson restored the vocation of pastor to one of dignity, honesty, intellectual curiosity, and accessibility,” said Derek Boggs, pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Princeton, Illinois. “His voice kept me sane and made me feel that this vocation was an honorable one.”

Peterson pastored the church he founded, Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, for 30 years. His son made the announcement in a widely circulated message last Friday. Peterson has been suffering from dementia and congestive heart-valve failure.

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About the Author

Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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