I don’t believe I have ever introduced a speaker using his own words until now. I might quote from a book they have written or something said about them but never have I used something from personal correspondence. You’ll see why shortly.
When I asked Eugene Peterson to be the Bible teacher this year I did not know what to expect. When he said “yes” I was delighted because in the small amount of personal contact I have had with him over the years I have been impressed with his directness, practical application with poetic language, and his dedication to his own ordination as a pastor. When the trend seems to be two extremes lately – pastors are just ordinary folk like you and me or they are icons to be revered – Eugene is neither of us those. He’s not ordinary and he’s not interested in being venerated. He’s a pastor who has spent his life deeply immersed in the lives of his congregation. Wendell Berry says this through the character of Jayber Crow: “And so I came to belong to this place. Being here satisfies me. I had laid my claim on the place, had made it answerable to my life. Of course, you can’t do that and get away free. You can’t choose, it seems, without being chosen. For the place, in return, had laid its claim on me and had made my life answerable to it.” Eugene Peterson chose a place and people who had a claim on his life – and he on theirs.
I received this note from Eugene along with his agreement to speak. “As I prepare my soul for the conference it would help greatly if you would give me some sense of who these people are and the circumstances of their lives. I am a pastor and “congregation” is an important ingredient in what I say. I don’t have a “stump speech” that I give. So anything you could tell me that would help me in the months I have in prayer and imagining would help.” I responded by asking several Gathering participants if they would write Eugene directly and tell him where they are in their lives. I could have done it but I thought it would be far more helpful if he heard from them. I hope it was. I know this – and I am not saying this to compare his response to any other speaker past, present or future – I have never had anyone ask me such a question about you. How can I know something about their lives so I can pray, imagine and prepare.
So, this morning I am not introducing a speaker or even a Bible teacher. I am introducing you to our pastor for the time we are here – Dr. Eugene Peterson. He and his wife, Jan, will be with us throughout the week-end and we are so pleased they are here.
Please welcome him to The Gathering.