Dear Hyde Park Family,
On Monday, Eugene Peterson died.
You may know him as the author of The Message, a popular paraphrase of the Bible. Others may know him for his many books on Christian spirituality and pastoral ministry. I remember him for the week I spent with him and eleven other pastors in Collegeville, Minnesota, in 2009.
That week forever changed my understanding of what it means to be a minister.
The workshop was titled “Writing and the Pastoral Life,” an exploration of how the discipline of writing can deepen and strengthen the work of a pastor. It included private consultation with Sari Fordham, an excellent professional writing instructor, who helped me clarify my voice and sharpen my wordsmithing skills. And the days were filled with long hours of sitting together, listening to Eugene reflect on what it means to be a pastor.
Eugene Peterson would never have been counted among the mega-church, celebrity spotlight pastors that get lots of attention. He never grew a church into the thousands, and he never spoke at a church growth conference; in fact, he eschewed such major speaking engagements.
What he offered, in his own gentle, faithful, humble way, was a deeply grounded reminder of what it means to be a pastor, as well as what it does not mean. It does not mean treating people as cogs in a giant machine simply to grow the church bigger and bigger. It does not mean treating broken people as improvement projects in order for clergy to feel better about themselves. Ministers are not meant to be either managers or messiahs.
Instead, we are meant to love people. People like you, who entrust us with a most sacred and profound privilege. You invite us into the holiest and most private journeys of birth, death, brokenness, love, hopelessness, and joy. You place into our hands those moments you dare not entrust anyone else. We stand with you at the graveside. We hold your hand when your grip on life feels weak. We cradle your child into God’s gracious waters of baptism. We call you to the table, to remind you of Christ’s presence and forgiveness. We direct your gaze toward resurrection, when the haze of death fogs your spirit.
It’s the reminder that I needed.
When I met Eugene in 2009, I was two years removed from being your associate pastor, and serving a smaller church in a small town in Iowa. The culture shock was pronounced, along with some disillusionment that the upward trajectory of my church “career” had taken an unexpected turn. But after that week with Eugene, I learned to love the people in Cherokee, Iowa, and I remembered that it’s not the size of a church that defines my success. It is the measure of humility and love we create as a congregation that makes us the church God has called us to be.
It’s what I needed to learn before I came back to be your senior pastor. I’ll admit, in a church like Hyde Park, with so many systems to tend, plates to spin, and programs to mind, I can too easily fall back on seeing each of you as cogs or projects, people to use or heal in a giant machine.
But then, I remember Eugene. And I think about what he said.
About never craving the spotlight, but striving instead to be faithful, humble and loving.
- About guarding against “ecclesial pornography,” the temptation for pastors to fantasize about their next church, bigger and healthier than the one they are serving.
- About the central role of contemplation, prayer, Sabbath, and soul-tending, as more important than anything else we do as followers of Jesus.
- About the American church being too driven by a consumerist mentality, in which the “God-product” is marketed as some commodity for people to comparison shop. That’s not discipleship; it’s idol worship.
- About paying attention to the ordinary, and cultivating patient awareness as a spiritual practice. At his home in Montana, the newspaper was delivered every morning in a post box a far distance from his front door. And every morning, he would walk – never drive – to pick up that paper, as a kind of sacramental rhythm to his daily routine.
- About how words are important. To be a better pastor and preacher, stay in love with words, both as a reader and a writer. He said that people asked him all the time how to be a writer. He said he knew what they were really asking. They wanted to know how to be an author. About how to get published, get their name on a bookshelf, how to market toward a niche. Instead, he told people to care more about being a writer. Write, even if no one reads what you write, for words are our stock and trade. Mastering the language will strengthen your pastoral care, your preaching, your administrating, every aspect of your ministry. I have never forgotten that.
When I learned about his death on Monday, I was deeply saddened. But I give thanks that the season of time that I got to know him has shaped the ministry I claim now because of him.
Rest in peace, Eugene Peterson. Good and faithful servant.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist
MISSIONS CELEBRATION THIS SUNDAY
Join us this Sunday for a major highlight of our year. Our annual Missions Celebration showcases our partnerships with missionaries and agencies near and far. We are eager to welcome the Rev. Pam Carter as our guest preacher in the Sanctuary, who has been heavily involved in recent years in leading disaster recovery efforts on behalf of the Florida Annual Conference. The Harnish Activities Center will once again be filled with displays and representatives from our various missions partners. Learn More