“Every moment in this man’s presence is sacred.”
So concluded the son of Eugene Peterson in a weekend announcement that the 85-year-old retired pastor and bestselling author of The Message and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is receiving hospice care.
Robert Creech, a professor of Christian ministries at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary, shared the announcement from Eric Peterson on Facebook.
“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),” wrote Creech in a Saturday post now shared more than 1,000 times. “He has refreshed Scripture for many through his thoughtful paraphrase of the Bible published as The Message.
“He has taught us to pray,” Creech continued. “It is time for those who have benefited from his ministry to return the favor to him and his family with prayer over the next several weeks.”
This past Tuesday, Peterson was hospitalized after “a sudden and dramatic turn in his health caused by an infection,” wrote his son on Friday to friends and family (with the encouragement that they share the news). “He is now being treated for pneumonia and is responding well to the IV antibiotics. He is eating again, and went for a very short walk this afternoon. He is much improved as of today.”
Eric Peterson continued:
Elizabeth and I joined Jan and Leif in his room this afternoon for a meeting with his health care team of three doctors. They confirmed for us that the two main medical issues he is facing—heart failure and dementia—are advanced and progressing. Based on their recommendation, he will come under the care of hospice and his medical care will be primarily palliative. As of now it looks like it will be 1-3 more days before he returns home, depending on when all the support systems are in place.
When I summarized the conversation with him later, I told him there were three main things for him to know.1. You are deeply loved.
2. It appears that you are in the last months of your life. (And when I asked him how he felt about that, after some thought, he said, “I feel good about that.”)
3. We are going to try to help make these remaining months as comfortable and enjoyable for you as possible. (To which he gave us his million dollar smile and said, “thank you.”)
Today he was visited by his brother and sister-in-law (Ken and Polly), Glen, the Presbyterian pastor in Kalispell, and Gary, the former director of the Lutheran Bible Camp. He’s tucked into bed now and resting comfortably. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by it, but one of the last things he said to me this evening was, “It just seems so sacred that they trust me so much.”
As CT has noted, Peterson is a “shepherd’s shepherd”—a pastoral writer who aims to keep Christian leaders grounded in robust biblical theology amid the din of shallow preaching aimed at self-improvement and megachurch marketing campaigns to “do more.” The founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, Peterson is “retired” but continues to shepherd through his spiritual theology writing, notably his recent memoir, The Pastor, and over 30 other books.
Last year, CT published an excerpt from one of Peterson’s final books, As Kingfishers Catch Fire. Other CT excerpts from his works include meditating like a dog from Eat This Book, and life in a country of death from Living the Resurrection.
Correction: An earlier version of this blog referred to As Kingfishers Catch Fire as Peterson’s final book, but a new devotional of his called Every Step an Arrival was published this month.