This week my pastor died. When I moved to Harford County at age 4, my family attended Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air. It was close to our house and I think represented sort of a middle road between my dad’s Episcopalian and mom’s mom’s Christian Church (like Mountain Christian Church) backgrounds. The pastor there was Eugene Peterson. We called him “Pastor Pete.” He was a larger than life character when I was a kid, maybe because he was so much bigger than me and he had a beard. He had a very raspy sort of voice and had a kind face. I don’t remember as a child ever seeing him in anything but a black robe (most preachers wore those back then) and so it was always exciting for me on the annual church picnic day because he would participate in the church softball game in “regular” clothes.
Pastor Pete was there in that pulpit almost every Sunday of my life for twenty years. I heard him preach a lot of sermons. I remember that during communion, the elders would pass plates down the aisles. When they were finished, they would sit in the front pews and Pastor Pete would serve them. I can remember him saying to each one “The body of Christ, broken for you” “The blood of Christ, poured out for you” …
As I grew older, I began to appreciate him even more. In high school and college, he had a monk-like advisor status among my peers, largely because of the raspy voice and because he always thought before he spoke. But he made time to meet with us, to counsel us, to lead us in Bible Study – he was our pastor. He never minded (or at least he never said he minded) that as high schoolers we would sit in the back row and bring coins to church to see who could make the most noise “giving” our money during the collection of the offering in the metal offering plates.
It wasn’t until college that I learned that his writings were actually appreciated by the wider world. He had written a book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, which had become a must-read among evangelical Christians in the 80s. It remains one of my favorite books on the Christian life. He is probably best known for The Message, his paraphrase / translation of the Bible into “American” dialect. I devoured his many books and would imagine him saying the things I was reading. All of this was very formative for me as a young Christian. Later, I began to read his books directed towards those who are in pastoral ministry. His pastoral counsel – from a pastor to pastors – has been invaluable to me. But the thing I remember most and love most about Pastor Pete was that his love for the Lord, his love for Scriptures, his love for prayer, his love for people was completely genuine. His life was consistent with the message that he preached. What a gift to have seen this.
Pastor Pete’s death has made me realize that my childhood memories are somehow now more fully that – memories. The man who, next to my dad, has influenced my life the most has passed on into the arms of Jesus. I am glad for him. He lived out a long obedience in the same direction and is now home. I want to run the race like he ran it. I want to be as good of a pastor for you as he was for me. But I know that even if I am not able to do that, we can at least both be pointing you in the right direction – to Christ, the Good Shepherd of the Sheep, the Way, the Truth and the Life – the One who died that you and I might live, now and forever.