North Park Community Remembers Richard W. Carlson

Richard Carlson
Richard Carlson, professor emeritus of ministry, at North Park Theological Seminary's commencement celebration in May 2012.

CHICAGO (July 29, 2013) — Richard W. Carlson, professor emeritus of ministry at North Park Theological Seminary, died Friday after a long battle with esophageal cancer.

Carlson, 73, came to North Park Theological Seminary in 1975, where he taught spiritual formation and ministry courses until his retirement in 2012. He served as the director of field education for more than 25 years and was integral in launching the Seminary’s C. John Weborg Center for Spiritual Direction, of which he served as director in recent years.

Throughout his years as a faculty member at the Seminary, Carlson was “a pastor among pastors, a scholar among scholars—widely read with tremendous expertise in the field of ministry—but probably best known for his care and mentoring of students,” said Rev. David Kersten, dean of North Park Theological Seminary. “He gave the most significant portion of his vocational life to the Seminary and the formation of a whole generation of Covenant ministers.”

“I would not be in ministry today if he hadn’t guided and mentored my early and difficult years in ministry,” Kersten added.

Carlson was known for his eloquent turns of phrase, the cadence of his voice, and his unique approach to and style of teaching and ministry. As both professor of ministry and director of field education, he became a “master of instruction through case studies,” Kersten said, valuing the importance of experience and learning through doing. In many ways, “Richard taught ministry through his own ministry to students and ongoing ministry to serving pastors,” Kersten added.

In a letter to University President David L. Parkyn just before his retirement, Carlson wrote, “It will be hard to leave North Park. Here has been much of my vocational life. In fact over 70% of my adult life has been spent on this campus as a college student (Class of ’62), physical plant worker, dorm receptionist, first director of the campus center, Seminary orientation student, and for the last thirty-four years as Seminary professor. 

“North Park and its peoples, students, staff, administrators, fellow alumni, and faculty colleagues have all been grace-bearers in my journey as a Christian pilgrim and constant source of delight and gladness as fellow human beings,” Carlson wrote.

Beloved by students, Carlson was their professor, mentor, friend, and even coach of the school’s Covenant League softball team. Over the weekend, an outpouring of memories and photos surfaced on social media as students honored his memory.

“Thank you for modeling what it means to live a God-led, spirit-filled life. Your life taught and touched so many. You will truly be missed!” wrote Nicole Bullock, pastor of Blue Oaks Church in Brooklyn Park, Minn., on Carlson’s Facebook page. 

“Richard was a students’ teacher,” said Jay Phelan, former president and dean of 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.”

As President Parkyn shared Carlson’s retirement words with the Seminary community at the 2012 commencement celebration, he encouraged the graduates to take note of their professor’s embodiment of the gospel. “Simply faithful. Faithful in risk, faithful in dreaming, faithful in trusting, faithful in hearing God’s call, faithful in taking the first step, and then another, and still another,” he said, drawing a parallel between Carlson’s journey and Jesus’ words in Luke 19:26.

Carlson earned his bachelor’s degree in history from North Park College in 1962; a master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1965; and his doctor of ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago in 1975.

He was ordained as a minister in Evangelical Covenant Church in 1967 and served Immanuel Covenant Church in Bronx, New York; Trinity Covenant Church in Livingston, New Jersey; and Douglas Park Covenant Church in Chicago.

A memorial service for Carlson is planned for Sunday, August 11, at 2:30 pm, in North Park University’s Anderson Chapel. Messages of condolence may be sent to Rev. Jolene Bergstrom-Carlson at 121 S. East Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302.

Stan Friedman contributed to this report.

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