Eugene Peterson, a “shepherd’s shepherd,” passed away (joyfully) today at the age of 85.
“The lantern is out, but the joy he carried with him to his final breaths endures,” author Winn Collier writes in a Twitter post, sharing the news of Peterson’s passing. “Eugene is now with the Triune God he has loved his entire life. Memory eternal.”
Peterson’s son, Eric, announced last week that his father was being moved into hospice care after a “sudden and dramatic turn in his health caused by an infection.” Peterson was being treated for pneumonia, heart failure and dementia. The beloved author of The Message Bible and pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, for nearly 30 years, spent a week in hospice care before moving on to heaven.
NavPress, the publisher of The Message Bible, confirmed Peterson’s passing, and members of his family released the following statement:
During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven. We overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise. There may have even been a time or two when he accessed his Pentecostal roots and spoke in tongues as well.
Among his final words were, “Let’s go.” And his joy: My, oh my; the man remained joyful right up to his blessed end, smiling frequently. In such moments it’s best for all mortal flesh to keep silence. But if you have to say something say this: “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
It feels fitting that his death came on a Monday, the day of the week he always honored as a Sabbath during his years as a pastor. After a lifetime of faithful service to the church—running the race with gusto—it is reassuring to know that Eugene has now entered into the fullness of the Kingdom of God and has been embraced by eternal Sabbath.
Collier is currently working on a biography of Peterson and considered him a close friend. Part of Collier’s research work for the biography has included carefully sifting through cabinets at the Peterson’s home on Flathead Lake in Montana that are “stuffed” with letters from the “bajillion” people Peterson corresponded with. Most of them were pastors; Peterson was known as a sort of shepherd of shepherds who wrote encouragement to those who reached out to him.
Peterson’s family is grateful for all the prayers and support that has been shown to them during this final lap of life. They have plans to live-stream his funeral, which will be held at First Presbyterian Church of Kalispell, Montana. A date has not yet been announced.
In an interview with ChurchLeaders last year, Peterson said, “I think it’s important, according to me anyway, to have some mentors in the cemeteries. People who did it right, before there were crowds of people to become important.”
Eugene Peterson has graduated to take his place among our “mentors in the cemeteries.” He was 85.