This might sound unrealistic, but it’s my hope:  

I hope I can be part of changing the

pastoral imagination of American pastors.

—Eugene Peterson

Eugene H. Peterson might be best known for his award-winning paraphrase of the Bible, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, but he was also a prolific writer of over 30 books, a Presbyterian pastor for 29 years, and a professor of spiritual theology for six years. Eugene Peterson had an immense influence across generational and denominational boundaries.

After Rev. Peterson died in 2018, his family sought to find a suitable site to steward the Peterson papers and archives and to promote his pastoral theology for future scholarship, the health of pastors, and the Church’s renewed imagination. Earlier this year, Western Theological Seminary was chosen to be that site.

According to his son, Rev. Eric Peterson, “WTS is the school that Eugene exclusively recommended to prospective students preparing to serve the church.” In 2010 Eugene said this: “It is everything I think a seminary needs to be—theologically focused, faculty accessible, personally relational, and God honoring. I never fail to feel at home there with its professors and students.”

Eugene Peterson speaking at the Bast Festival of Preaching, 2014

Eugene Peterson’s relationship with the seminary goes back decades, beginning in the 1980’s when he taught at a Young Life Institute on campus. His friendship with WTS deepened in 1998 when Dr. Timothy Brown invited him to campus as the keynote speaker for the Henry Bast Festival of Preaching. In 2008 he returned to speak at Dr. Brown’s presidential inauguration and in 2014 he led the Bast Festival again.

The newly formed Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination will house Eugene Peterson’s papers within the library archive collection in the Dewitt Learning Commons of Western. The collection will include diaries, thousands of letters, sermons, book manuscripts, Regent College teaching material, and extensive documentation related to the translation of The Message.

The Peterson Center will be a hub where people can contemplate questions that shaped Eugene’s Christian imagination over a lifetime, such as:  Why is an animated, Spirit-infused imagination essential if we are to persevere in living our faith amid the grit and beauty of ordinary life?

Through small, relational cohorts, fellowships, theological reflection, retreats, pilgrimages, public conversations, and artistic collaborations, the Peterson Center will provide space and opportunity to ponder these questions with humility, friendship, and generosity in order to embolden the Church’s hopeful, faithful presence in the world.

“My hope is that these intentional spaces will help a diverse array of Christians cultivate the joyful, creative and steadfast character that the world and church so desperately need,” says Dr. Winn Collier, the newly appointed director of the center.

Dr. Winn Collier, Director

Winn is the authorized biographer of Eugene Peterson, a long-time pastor, and the author of numerous books. With his deep roots in pastoral ministry, his intimate knowledge of Eugene Peterson’s life and ministry, and his own writing and research, Winn holds the right combination of gifts, callings, and expertise to bring this center to life. He joined the WTS community in August as Director of the Eugene Peterson Center and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Christian Imagination.

Eugene & Winn

The relationship between the two men began 16 years ago when Winn realized he and Eugene Peterson shared the same publisher, so he twisted his editor’s arm to give him Dr. Peterson’s address. He wrote him a letter, and they began to correspond. Winn was so determined to meet Eugene in person that when he learned of a spiritual renewal weekend Dr. Peterson was co-leading with his son in Juneau, Alaska, he flew over 4000 miles for the opportunity to have breakfast with him.

“Over huevos rancheros and coffee, I grilled him mercilessly,” Winn says with a grin. “In the years that followed, he became my pastor, writing letters from Montana.”

Their friendship led to Winn being chosen to write the authorized biography of Eugene’s life entitled, A Burning in My Bones, due to come out next March (see below).

Winn has been a pastor for 25 years and was the founding pastor of All Souls in Charlottesville, VA for 12 years. He had every intention of retiring from All Souls, which he describes as “a beautiful community of faithful, honest friends.”

“It was a hard decision to leave, but there were so many signals that this was something God was doing—and the Holy Spirit opened up possibilities so quickly. It certainly seemed to my wife, Miska, and me that this was a clear invitation from God,” says Winn. “It’s exciting and makes me wonder what God has in store here.”

The Peterson archives will be installed at the seminary in early 2021. Later next year, two D.Min. cohorts will be offered through the Center, one exploring pastoral imagination and the other centered on writing. Due to the pandemic, the timing for other gatherings and public offerings remains in flux. Stay tuned!

TO BE RELEASED MARCH 2021

Winn Collier was given exclusive access to Eugene Peterson and his materials to produce this landmark work. Drawing from his friendship and expansive view of Peterson’s ministry, Winn offers an intimate, beautiful, and earthy look into a remarkable life.

Encounter one of the most influential and creative pastors of the past half century with unforgettable stories of Eugene’s lifelong devotion to his craft and love of language, the influences and experiences that shaped his unquenchable faith, the inspiration for his decision to translate The Message, and his success and struggles as a pastor, husband, and father.

NOVEMBER SPECIAL OFFER FROM THE PUBLISHER

Waterbook/Penguin Random House is giving WTS Commons readers a special offer. Pre-order A Burning in My Bones and receive a free trade paper copy of As Kingfishers Catch Fire (by Eugene Peterson).

Limited quantities available, limited time offer ends November 30, 2020.

Both books will be mailed to you in March 2021 when A Burning in My Bones is released.

GO TO:  https://bit.ly/37vJwds

Western Theological Seminary is pleased to announce it has been selected by the family of the late Rev. Eugene Peterson (pastor, author, and translator of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language), to establish a new “Eugene Peterson Center.”

While the mission and programs of the center will continue to be developed and solidified in the months to come, the center will exist to promote the pastoral theology of Eugene Peterson for future scholarship, the health of pastors and the Church’s renewed imagination. The center will steward the Peterson papers and archives, create generative models for pastoral formation, provide resources to encourage pastors for sustainable, joyful and courageous ministry, and promote robust Christian imagination among writers and culture makers in the wider church.

Eugene Peterson’s relationship with the seminary goes back decades, beginning in the 1980’s when he taught at a Young Life Institute on campus. The Presbyterian minister’s friendship with WTS deepened in 1998 when Rev. Dr. Timothy Brown invited him to campus as the keynote speaker for the Henry Bast Festival of Preaching. In 2008 he returned to speak at President Brown’s inauguration, and was invited again in 2014 to reprise his role at the Bast Festival.

According to his son, Rev. Eric Peterson, “WTS is the school that Eugene exclusively recommended to prospective students who were preparing to serve the church.” In 2010 Eugene said this: “It is everything I think a seminary needs to be–theologically focused, faculty accessible, personally relational and God honoring. I never fail to feel at home there with its professors and students.” After visiting campus himself, Eric agreed. “To witness the combination of first-rate scholars, coupled with a compelling vision for theological education and a student body that exhibits an earnest desire to serve the kingdom was altogether inspiring,” he shared. “The meaningful ways the seminary community is engaging with people at the margins of society resonates with our family’s values.” 

The seminary is excited to be tasked with stewarding Eugene Peterson’s pastoral legacy through the center, which will house diaries, letters, sermons, book manuscripts, Regent College teaching material and extensive documentation related to the translation of The Message within its library archive collection in the newly built Jack & Mary Dewitt Learning Center. 

WTS President Dr. Felix Theonugraha is excited to be able to provide opportunities for students, alumni, and the wider church to engage Peterson’s work. “Forming the whole person has long been an emphasis here at Western,” he explained. “There is agreement among theological schools that we must do a better job focusing on the formation of future pastors, especially as we live in a world that is filled with cultural liturgies that form us each and every day in ways that are contrary to the values of the Kingdom of God. It is tempting today to judge the effectiveness of one’s ministry or a church’s impact based on numbers–how many members, how many attendees, how many sites, how many countries– Eugene compassionately and unassumingly reminds us to turn our eyes away from the glitter of this world and to fix them upon Christ.”

Academic Dean and VP of Academic Affairs Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson, who had a personal friendship with Eugene, said, “I have spoken to countless others who, through his writings and personal friendship, were given a vision of the Christian life that by God’s grace has sustained them in that ‘long obedience in the same direction,’” quoting one of his most famous lines.

“We are honored and humbled by this opportunity to steward and extend the legacy of Eugene Peterson,” said Dr. Theonugraha.