Eugene Peterson, the bestselling author of “The Message” and longtime pastor praised as a “shepherd’s shepherd,” is moving into hospice and receiving palliative medical care.
Peterson, 85, was hospitalized Tuesday (Oct. 9) “when he took a sudden and dramatic turn in his health caused by an infection,” according to an email from his son Eric Peterson. The elder Peterson already had been dealing with dementia and congestive heart failure, both of which are progressing, according to his son’s email.
He is expected to receive hospice care at home.
His son’s email was shared over the weekend in a Facebook post by Robert Creech, professor of Christian ministries at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary.
“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),” Creech wrote in the post.
“He has refreshed Scripture for many through his thoughtful paraphrase of the Bible published as The Message. He has taught us to pray.”
The Truett Seminary professor encouraged prayer for Peterson and his family as Eric Peterson announced the author and pastor was being moved into hospice care and likely had months to live.
After consulting with doctors, Eric Peterson wrote, he shared three things with his father: He is loved, h
e is in the last months of his life and his family will do everything they can to make his remaining time comfortable and enjoyable. When he asked his father how he felt about entering his last months, Eric Peterson wrote, his father thought before responding, “I feel good about that.”
He closed his email, dated Oct. 12: “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.’
“Every moment in this man’s presence is sacred.”
Peterson pastored the church he founded, Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Md., for 30 years while also writing widely to encourage and develop other pastors. He retreated from public life last year after publishing his final book, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” but not before causing some controversyby telling Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt he would perform a same-sex marriage, celebrated in the Presbyterian Church (USA), before retracting that statement.
He also told RNS in an interview last year that he did not fear death.
From Robert Creech:
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 over the next several weeks as Eugene has been placed in hospice care: Christe eleison, Kyrie, eleison.
The email dated October 12 below is from his son, Eric, who has given permission to share it.
Dear friends and family,
As many of you know Eugene was hospitalized on Tuesday when he took a sudden and dramatic turn in his health caused by an infection. 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.
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.”
Every moment in this man’s presence is sacred.
Grace and peace, Eric
P.S. Feel free to pass this message along to others.