Obituary: Jim Sundholm

Jim Sundholm was presented with the North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service in 2016.

VASHON, WA (March 27, 2020) — Jim Sundholm, who served the poor around the world as a pastor, director of Covenant World Relief, and executive director of the Paul Carlson Partnership, died today at the age of 74.

“We have lost our finest pastor-prophet,” said Dave Kersten, dean of North Park Theological Seminary. The school presented Sundholm with its Alumni Award for Distinguished Service at the 2016 Midwinter Conference.

“Jim was a hero to many, including me,” said Dave Husby, the current director of Covenant World Relief. “He deeply loved and cared for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. He refused to keep quiet about injustice, and he was one of the funniest persons I have ever met. Jim patiently mentored me, opened my eyes to the deep brokenness of the world, and he demonstrated through his life how to love people the way Jesus loves them.”

In a recent letter to Sundholm, Husby wrote, “I can say with all confidence that without you as my predecessor in CWR, I would never have even considered pursuing the position. You built CWR into an amazing ministry that made me want to be a part of it. You often talked about standing on others’ shoulders, but I stand firmly on yours.”

Former ECC president Gary Walter, said, “Jim was a forerunner, a John the Baptist figure in preparing the way of the Covenant to love mercy and do justice. And he never lost sight of evangelism. Jim embodied the Covenant’s missional instincts: God wants lost people found and hurting people helped—everyone, everywhere, every time.”

In 1972, he began his ministry at Community Covenant Church in a low-income neighborhood of Minneapolis, starting as director of Christian education and eventually becoming pastor.

In 1996, Jim began serving in the Northwest Conference of the denomination as a support to congregations and pastors, in youth leadership development, and in urban/ethnic ministries.  Under the leadership of his associate, Jerry Rice, he became involved with a South Sudanese refugee congregation in Sioux Falls, S.D., which led to trips with Jerry to refugee camps in Ethiopia and South Sudan.  This began the eventual development, with Sudanese leaders and pastors, of 400 congregations of the Evangelical Covenant Church of South Sudan and Ethiopia.

James Tang, a South Sudanese refugee said Jim helped enable him to serve as a missionary to his native country by arranging church visits throughout the United States. He also praised Jim’s courage in traveling to a dangerous part of the world.

Tang recalled a trip in 2005: “Our car has a flat tire in the middle of the road, where the North Sudan Islamic soldiers and its rebel moved around.  I was worry about him maybe we would be found by rebel so our driver would be killed and Jim may be kidnapped.  Jim has never been panic or worry, but his faith was strong even in the time of stress.”

Jim also became sick while on the trip.  “I told him that we have to return back and cut our trip. Nevertheless, Jim insisted that we have to continue on our trip regardless of this sickness. I was very impressed with how Jim had endurance even though the situation was not conducive.”

From 1999 to 2009, he served as director of Covenant World Relief and as executive director of Paul Carlson Partnership. He guided the Covenant’s response to the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

He also helped launch the denomination’s Urban Commission and Sankofa journey.

In a 2011 sermon, Sundholm exhorted, “Jesus invites us to lay aside a selfish life in order that a better life might arise. In order that our own parochial interests might give way to a discovery of God’s desire for a fuller, better humanity. The good that God has given us is not just a potential, but a reality to be lived out in unselfish service for the good of others.”Sundholm was born on June 13, 1945, in Seattle, where he grew up attending First Covenant Church. He graduated with a bachelor of arts from North Park College and a master’s of divinity from North Park Theological Seminary.

He had the gift to see the people he worked with, be they wealthy, poor, powerful, or marginalized, as equal brothers and sisters in the struggle for justice and grace.

His self-deprecating humor was on display when he received the seminary’s Alumni Award at the Midwinter Conference. Sundholm told the one thousand pastors in attendance that when he left Seattle to attend North Park College, “I was voted outstanding Christian teenager, and they gave me a trophy for that, and obviously I was quite impressed, so I knew that North Park was really going to get something special.”

Over time, he said, “I learned that I needed North Park more than North Park needed me.”

However, people who knew Sundholm were saying repeatedly on social media throughout the day, it was the Covenant who needed him.

Sundholm married Carol Anderson in 1972. She survives.

Other survivors include his children, Luke Sundholm, Rachel Couleur, and Johanna Fernandez; six grandchildren; brother Dick Sundholm and sister Jean Mohrweis; and numerous nieces and nephews.

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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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9 Comments

  1. I am sad to learn of Jim’s leaving this earth. My condolences to and prayers for his family. I last saw Jim and visited with him at our 55th high school reunion in 2018. We both attended Ballard High School in Seattle, graduating in 1963. Jim impressed me by his kindness to everyone and his humility despite being one of the more popular guys in our very large class! What a legacy he is leaving and an impactful life he led! A life well lived, indeed!

  2. Jim was our Class President at Ballard High School in Seattle. Always an open, positive Believer in Jesus and admired by everyone. He was kind, generous and so funny always special to be around at any gathering! So good to read what he did with his life! Not at all surprised of course that his life counted for so much. His rewards in Heaven will be great and I know he will lay them all at Jesus’ feet! So grateful to have known him here on earth!

  3. I’ll forever love you, Pastor Jim. You showed so much care and concern for me with no ulterior motives ever. You showed me God’s love through your own, and watched me revel and thrive in that glory! I dedicate the pursuance of this urban youth ministry degree to you. Rest Peacefully in Heaven, Pops! You’ll forever be in my heart!

  4. Jim was a friend, an admired colleague and an extraordinary servant of Christ and the Covenant. His presence, his voice, his advocacy for diversity and the marginalized will be sorely missed. Peace to the memory of this remarkable man and sympathy to his family.. He helped shape our church in significant ways.

  5. In my life Jim was a friend, a companion, an advocate and a defender. In a time of oppressive darkness he was the kind of light Jesus was talking about when he said to his disciples, “You are the might of the world.” Will we ever see his kind among us again?

  6. Jim was described by my cousin Norma as “the sweetest of all the cousins.” (There were 12 of us.) It is obvious from reading all of the above that his sweetness continued on. My Dad was a Pastor and Superintendent in the Evangelical Free Church. After he died, as Jim was beginning on his journey of serving, Mom offered him any of my Dad’s books he wanted. She was delighted that he took the time to come and thoughtfully look them over, and leave with several. His brother Dick and sister Jean are dear cousins, and my prayers for all of the family go on. His wife Carol is such a rock. What a dramatic change in her life now. Love to all of you.

  7. So sorry to hear of Jim’s passing. It was so good to see him at my Dad’s memorial just 2 months ago-we were so surprised to see him as the journey must have been very difficult given his health. My Dad so appreciated working with him over the years, when at Community Covenant (I recall singing and playing guitar at services there), at the Northwest Conference, and especially all the work they did together with helping start and build up the Covenant Church in South Sudan and Ethiopia. His compassion and enthusiasm will be sorely missed.

  8. Thank you for the wonderful article regarding Jim and the impact he had in the Covenant Church and in the world. It has been many years since I knew him as our parents and us were friends at 1st Covenant Seattle. My heart goes out to his family and his brother Dick and sister Jean. Don Soderlund

  9. Jim was a friend and mentor to me when I began work at Paul Carlson Partnership. He gave freely of his time. His advice was invaluable. I will miss his friendship and his laugh. We have lost a great pastor and leader.

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