Best-selling Christian author and pastor Eugene Peterson is expected to enter hospice care this week. That announcement came last Friday from his son, Eric, who emailed friends and family members about his father’s recent hospitalization.
Eugene Peterson, who turns 86 in three weeks, faced “a sudden and dramatic turn in his health caused by an infection,” his son wrote. In addition to being treated for pneumonia, the elder Peterson also has been dealing with heart failure and dementia. Based on doctors’ advice, his son says, the retired scholar “will come under the care of hospice, and his medical care will be primarily palliative.”
When Eric Peterson recounted the situation to his father, he assured him that he’s “deeply loved” and that caregivers will “try to help make these remaining months as comfortable and enjoyable for you as possible.” Upon hearing he’s likely in the last months of his life, Eugene Peterson replied, “I feel good about that.”
In his email, Eric Peterson wrote, “One of the last things he said to me this evening was, ‘It just seems so sacred that they trust me so much.’” Eric concluded by saying, “Every moment in this man’s presence is sacred.”
A “Shepherd’s Shepherd”
“Eugene Peterson has encouraged, formed and often literally saved the ministry of more than one pastor over the years through his writing and thinking (I would include myself in that list). He has refreshed Scripture for many through his thoughtful paraphrase of the Bible published as The Message. He has taught us to pray. It is time for those who have benefited from his ministry to return the favor to him and his family with prayer.”
The author of more than 30 books, Peterson is best known for his Gold Medallion Book Award winner The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. That paraphrase has been lauded for being accessible to modern-day readers yet criticized for being too contemporary. Peterson’s other books about faith, theology and pastoral ministry include A Long Obedience in the Same Direction and Run With the Horses. His most recent title, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, was released in May 2017.
For almost 30 years, Peterson served as pastor at a church he founded, Christ Our King Presbyterian in Bel Air, Maryland. Until his retirement in 2006, Peterson also was a professor of spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver. In his memoir The Pastor, Peterson encourages congregational shepherds and their flocks.
In an interview with ChurchLeaders earlier this year, Peterson reflected on his ministry and the state of American churches. “There’s not very much good preaching these days,” he said. Instead, there’s “a lot of entertainment, lot of stories.” He also observed, “I think pastors need to be more modest in what they’re doing.”
“I’m Not Afraid” of Death
Last year, when asked about the prospect of dying, Peterson replied, “I don’t think it’s anything to be afraid of.” He continued: “I’ve been with a lot of people who are dying. I think those conversations are some of the best I’ve ever had. These are people who have lived a good life and who have embraced their faith. They’re not afraid.”
Pastors play a key role in helping people face death, Peterson says. Pastors shouldn’t “talk about death in terms of something where we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he advises. “There are people who die well, and I want to be one.”
Please join us in praying for peace and comfort for Eugene Peterson and his family during the challenging days ahead.