Palmquist's Retirement Ends Century-Long Family Tenure
ATTLEBORO, MA (December 20, 2007) - December 31 was not only the last day of North Park graduate Kent Palmquist's (C'64 S'69) long tenure as an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor, it also was the end of 113 consecutive years of pulpit ministry in the denomination by a member of his family.
"I don't know if it's a record, but it's a good run," he says.
Five Palmquists across three generations have served in Covenant church pulpits. In 1894, Kent's paternal grandfather, A.E. Palmquist, began ministering to a congregation on the south side of Chicago. At the time, the Swedish immigrant was studying at the Chicago Theological Seminary.
In succeeding years, Palmquist family members would carry on the work in Covenant churches across the country. Other ordained pastors have been Kent's uncle, Herbert E. Palmquist; father, A. Eldon Palmquist; and cousin Roger W. Palmquist.
A cousin's son, A. Eric Palmquist, is the sixth family member to be ordained in the Covenant; he currently serves as director of admission at North Park Theological Seminary. Kent graduated from the seminary in 1969 after previously graduating from North Park College in 1964.
Kent isn't sure why so many members of his family became Covenant pastors, but with typical droll humor, he hypothesizes, "It was a genetic flaw that got carried down from one generation to another."
Turning serious, he adds, "I've known people who have been raised in parsonages, and the last thing they want to do is go into parish ministry," Kent says. "I've never felt that way." Rather, ministry always had a powerful call on him.
The family ties have made for interesting relationships. For a period of time, Kent served a church in the Central Conference while his father was the conference superintendent. "That kept me on the straight and narrow," he quips.
Eldon Palmquist never pressured his son to pursue ministry or in how to serve as a pastor. "He was very hesitant to give advice, and sensed that I needed to discern my way," Kent says.
Speaking of his family, Kent adds that he has been able to serve 38 years in ministry because, "I've had some great mentors, some great models in my life." The churches also have blessed him, he adds. "I have served congregation that have been a good fit. I've had the opportunity to grow over the years. I've never felt stifled." There has been other motivation for staying in the ministry. "I'm vested in the Covenant pension plan and didn’t want to get out of it," jokes Kent, who also has served on the denomination's Board of Pensions and Benefits.
The demands on pastors have continued to change over the decades, and Kent reflected on his experience in the church's annual report he completed this week. "Pastoral ministry is not easily understood in our day, even within the church," he writes. "For some it is understood as 'minding the store' (the Administrator), for others 'meeting peoples' needs' (the Chaplain), and for others 'envisioning institutional advancement' (the Entrepreneur). Each misses the mark. I have come to see it as the task of speaking the mystery and love and majesty of God, and in doing so — to paraphrase Eugene Peterson — inviting others into God’s life and purposes — which are never cramped nor demeaning, but large and beautiful. The call has been one of definite challenge, but also of rare and rewarding privilege."
Peterson's influence has been evident to others. Covenant President Glenn Palmberg says, "When I think of Kent Palmquist I am reminded of the title of the book by Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
. Kent is a model of a gifted and giving, steady, obedient servant of his Lord. He has served at the local, conference, and denominational level in love and faithfulness, and he and Bonnie have been a generous team in their care for others."