Dear Christ Church,
It’s been a sad week as we lost one of our greats last Monday, the Rev. Eugene Peterson, best known as translator of The Message, but perhaps more influential as a pastor, shepherd of other shepherds, author, mentor, and professor.
On January 25, 2004, Eugene flew down with his wife Jan and preached my ordination sermon at the Pro Cathedral Church of St. Clement, in El Paso, Texas, opening with a story about his son leading an ascent of Mt. Ranier with some companions. He described the plan to rope climbers together by threes in light of the danger of accidentally falling into a crevasse. He then said:
“This is a particular sermon for the ordination of Cliff Warner into the priesthood. We can’t understand Cliff’s ordination as a priest apart from the church and congregation in which he is ordained, so I want all of you in on it too. Priests and people climb the same mountain. We are subject to the same dangers. We experience the same weather. We get hungry and get tired to the same degree. We have questions and doubts and anxieties in common. We are roped together.”
These words have stayed with me throughout my priestly ministry, never more apparent than in this “year of the crevasse,” this year of being subject to dangers, fatigue, anxieties, etc. as experienced with Christine’s accident. Christine and my kids and I have been roped to you, Christ Church. You have responded with practical care, prayer, and loads of understanding and encouragement. Once again, thank you.
Christine and I were both students of Eugene’s at Regent College, where we started our family (Brendan and Cormac joined us for Eugene’s classes in an infant car seat). Eugene’s books, classes, mealtimes, office hours, and post-seminary correspondence and visits over the years, reading books to our girls—these have had an immense influence on our life and ministry. Have you ever seen those cartoons where there’s a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, whispering into a character’s ear? Christine and I have often joked that we feel like we have a “Eugene” on our shoulder, a counter-cultural messenger of God that encourages us to live prayerfully, slowly, relationally, humbly, in earthed ways, always paying attention to all things created and our Creator. He often said “if you want the Jesus results, you have to walk the Jesus way,” referring to sacrifice, servanthood, always choosing relationship over desired outcomes, choosing anonymity, and generosity of time and presence.
It is very difficult to find well-known, highly published, and/or sought-after speakers who would prefer not to be—who wish they could avoid the spotlight, who authentically don’t need or even want the attention. The genuinely lived quality of Eugene’s teaching, ministry, and writing spoke for itself, drawing attention that was to him, in fact, unwanted. Humility is one of the things that I most admire about Eugene and will most miss about his example. In Kate Shellnutt’s original obituary for Christianity Today, she quoted Eugene from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (for some reason this quotation no longer appears in the article), a perfect summation of this rare trait of humility which cultivates true self in Christ:
“I will not try to run my own life or the lives of others; that is God’s business, I will not pretend to invent the meaning of the universe; I will accept what God has shown its meaning to be; I will not strut about demanding that I be treated as the center of my family or my neighborhood or my work, but seek to discover where I fit and do what I am good at. The soul, clamoring for attention and arrogantly parading its importance, is calmed and quieted so that it can be itself, truly.”
We will miss you, Eugene.
You are invited to join us for Holy Eucharist as we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, with special thanksgiving for the life and ministry of Eugene Peterson next Thursday, November 1, 5:30pm at 112 Medina St.
P.S. You might remember that at the beginning of this year I mentioned that Meghan Scully would be stepping out of her staff position, where she has served as my Executive Assistant for over three years. She was just approaching her final day in the office when Christine’s accident happened, after which she generously remained on staff to see me (and my family and Christ Church) through this crisis. It is now time for her to return to the original sense she had of God’s invitation to a new season of family life, and His call. I will never be able to adequately express the debt of gratitude I owe Meghan for the gift of the past six months. Thank you, Meghan! On behalf of my whole family and Christ Church, whom you have also served, thank you. We are now opening a search for her replacement. See the Open Positions page for details.