Years ago, my husband Brent and I moved to Vancouver so he could do a Master of Divinity at Regent College. I think I can say, although others might disagree, that it was a heyday for Regent. No other Canadian school fully lived out the idea yet of graduate theological education for the lay person in quite the same way. The student body was exciting and diverse, from all over the world. But it was the faculty line up that was truly all-star. J.I.Packer was there, Bruce Waltke, Gordon Fee and then in 1993 Eugene Peterson joined the faculty.
Back then, there were SOS groups, which stood for Spouses of Students, and back then, that meant mainly wives. And it also meant faculty wives who would visit a group to speak or offer support and encouragement. The night Jan Peterson, Eugene’s wife visited the group I attended, was the night I burst into tears from weariness and frustration at yet another forced move from one cheap, flooded Vancouver basement into another. I can tell you that Vancouver had a student housing crisis way back then too. We moved. A lot.
We were always on the search for an affordable, dry and eventually, thank goodness, above-ground place to live. That night I had reached my peak of tolerance, and when we got to that sharing time where you sit in a circle on the floor and share how you are, how you really are, I flooded that room with my tears. I will always remember how kind Jan Peterson was. She patted my back and said kind, comforting words. She hugged me and I felt the group’s love and compassion wash over me in a beautiful way, even as I felt a little bit silly.
I worked at the college then, so I would cross paths with Jan pretty often after that, and Eugene as well of course. They were so kind. Jan would always ask how I was and if we were living on dry ground. I could feel her warmth and concern. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” I’d say, a little embarrassed, but also touched that she remembered. Eugene Peterson always had time for everyone, and never forgot the name of the staff who worked behind the scenes in the office. Some did, and it wasn’t really a big deal. But he never did, and that kind-of was.
Out of all the assignments my husband completed at his time at Regent, I remember only the one that Eugene Peterson assigned to him. I remember it because it was so moving for Brent to complete. The assignment was to write about the “soil” out of which your prayer life grows — an assignment a poet-pastor might give.
A lot of pastors have said they would not be the minister they are today without Eugene’s example. I believe that is true. I think my husband would say the same. And I’m also certain there are a lot of minister’s wives who learned from the example of Jan Peterson. I know I did.
May Eugene Peterson rest in peace and rise in glory, and may Jan be comforted with the comfort and warmth I am certain she offered to so many over the years.
Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today, and a minister’s wife.