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Richard Carlson, Celebrated North Park Seminary Professor, Dies

By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (July 27, 2013) – Richard Carlson, professor emeritus of ministry at North Park Theological Seminary and a former pastor, died early this morning after a long battle with esophageal cancer.

Carlson, 73, earned his bachelor’s degree at North Park College; M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in New York; and his DMin from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

He served Immanuel Covenant Church in Bronx, New York; Trinity Covenant Church in Livingston, New Jersey; and Douglas Park Covenant Church in Chicago.

Carlson began teaching at the seminary in 1978 and taught spiritual formation and ministry until 2012.

Carlson was too sick to attend the Covenant Annual Meeting in June, but President Gary Walter highlighted his legacy in comments to delegates.

“Richard was ahead of his time,” Walter said. “He was always encouraging us to remember the poor and those on the margins, encouraging us to not escape the world but to engage the world and its struggles. Richard used his agile mind to help us do just that and how to walk slowly home to Jesus with dignity, graciousness, and confidence in the mercies of God.”

Walter told the gathering he had asked Carlson if there was a message he would like shared with the delegates. Carlson replied, “In the midst of all that this year has meant for me as I am living with esophageal cancer, I truly have only one word: blessing. I pray that God be with you as president, that the laity may know God’s grace, and that pastors may be fruitful in their daily work.”

Ellen Kogstad, director of the C. John Weborg Center for Spiritual Direction, noted that Carlson had been instrumental in its founding ten years ago. He taught in the center until two years ago. His final cohort honored him when they graduated from the three-year program last month.

“Richard was a students’ teacher,” said Jay Phelan, former president and dean at the seminary. “Richard focused on the students and not just his topic. And students flocked to his office for counsel, encouragement, and support. Generations of students benefited from his compassion, his gentleness and his firmness.

“He was also a colleagues’ colleague. He cared for and loved all of us even at our most irascible,” Phelan added. “It is hard to imagine North Park without him in his third-floor office. His door was always open to those who question, perhaps most especially those who questioned themselves and their own worthiness.”

Those thoughts were echoed by former students, including Joshua Danielson, director of young adult ministry and contemporary worship at Arvada Covenant Church, who shared on Carlson’s Facebook page the words he had written in a journal following his seminary experience. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Richard embodies 1 John 4:18—‘Perfect love drives out fear,’ ” he wrote.

“He reflects the love of Jesus like the moon reflects the sun. I will be forever grateful to him for the hours he spent listening to me in his office, allowing me to be right where I am, never making me feel judged, condemned, or anything other than loved. Simply put, rooms are better when Richard is in them.”

Dennis Carlson, associate pastor at Faith Covenant Church in Farmington Hills, Michigan, said advice he received from Carlson as a student in the 1970s has been important to him ever since. “He said, ‘Pastoral ministry was more than a job but less than your life.’ Healthy, balanced perspective.”

Services are pending. Survivors include his wife, Jolene Bergstrom Carlson.

About the Author

  • Marianne Peters is a freelance writer, master gardener, and environmental educator. She lives in Plymouth, Indiana with her husband, two teenage daughters, and two mischievous ginger cats called Fred and George (after the Weasley twins of Harry Potter fame). From 2008-2013 she wrote the Creation Care column for Covenant Companion magazine. In 2011, her family decided to downsize by half, a decision that led to the publication of her book Declutter for Good: Share Your Life and Reclaim Your Life. She blogs about green living and gardening at www.freshwordswriting.com.

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