Holy Presence: Eugene Peterson and the Pastoral Imagination

application period: Nov 1 - Dec 1, 2023
next cohort Launches May 2024

Led by Dr. Winn Collier

Peterson believed the pastoral life must be lived and experienced in the context of relationships. He spoke often of a “pastoral imagination,” the capacity to see, through the eyes of the Spirit, the truest world: God’s world, the “wide country of the gospel.” Peterson’s pastoral writings offer working pastors the gift of a conversation partner who takes them and their vocational calling seriously. Eugene’s writings unfold how pastors can become more biblically rooted, theologically robust, missional aspiring, all the while offering others, and themselves, an expansive emotional canopy that shapes our shared human experience in Christ. The Holy Presence Cohort welcomes women and men who are committed to living out their calling as contemplative pastors in the company of like-minded pilgrims.

This cohort will invite applications from those who have been in Pastoral Ministry for over 3 years, and who want to commit to intentional reading, conversation, and growing in friendship over the writings of Eugene Peterson and a handful of other voices.

The Doctor of Ministry is a three-year program with two weeks of in residence per year.  Our cohort will meet on our campus in Holland, Michigan, four times, and two of our residencies will be offsite.


Year One: In addition to determining student projects, the first year of our cohort will be an immersion in Peterson’s pastoral writings, plumbing central themes of Eugene’s pastoral theology. We will begin with The Pastor: A Memoir, then his four foundational works yielding his pastoral convictions: The Contemplative Pastor, Working the Angles, Five Smooth Stones, and Under the Unpredictable Plant, finishing with selections from the five books making up Peterson’s Spiritual Theology, invitations to live a thoroughly integrated life of faith (Christ Plays in 10,000 places, The Jesus Way, Tell it Slant, Practice Resurrection and Eat this Book).

Year Two: The second year will continue to explore Eugene’s core themes, especially his posture of indwelling scripture for pastoral practice, reading selections from several works integrating Eugene’s Scriptural imagination: Reversed Thunder (Revelation), Answering God (Psalms), Leap Over a Wall (the Life of David), and Traveling Light (Galatians), as well as sections from The Message. Secondly, we will read several voices who will play as conversations partners as we seek to expand and reanimate the pastoral imagination into various contexts: Samuel D. Proctor and Gardner C. Taylor’s We Have This Ministry, Thabite Anyabwile’s The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three African American Pastors and Mandy Smith’s The Vulnerable Pastor. [year two will include the off-site intensive to Flathead Lake, Montana, staying near Eugene’s house and spending group time there]

Year three: Reading for this third year will engage selected works from Take and Read – shaping our reading around Peterson’s own expansive reading (novels, poems, essays, histories, lives of the saints, etc.) as we explore Eugene’s cohesive, seamless experience of life and beauty with his Biblical and pastoral imagination. The deeper focus of this final year, however, will be helping each cohort member to refine their project, as they interact with Peterson’s pastoral theology and imagination for their own particular context. We will dedicate the bulk of this final year to writing, using our intensives as opportunities to share what each student has gleaned and present their respective writing and projects with each other. [year three will include our pastoral/writing workshop retreat to Charleston, SC or Orlando, FL]

Ongoing: We will have at least one whole-cohort meeting via Zoom between intensives. Mentors will host 1-2 Zoom gatherings with their smaller advising circle. 

REsidency Dates

May 24-28, 2021 – Holland, MI
January 10-14, 2022 – Holland, MI
May 2022 – Flathead Lake, MT
January 2023 – Holland, MI
May 2023 – Isle of Iona, Scotland
January 2024 – Holland, MI

Meet our


Winn Collier

Lead Faculty Member

A pastor for 26 years, Winn now serves as the Director of the Eugene Peterson Center and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Christian Imagination at Western Theological Seminary.  In addition to writing for The Washington PostChristianity TodayChristian Century and numerous other outlets, he has published books in multiple genres (spiritual creative non-fiction, fiction, and biography): Restless Faith: Hanging on to a God Just Out of Reach; Let God: Spiritual Conversations with François Fénelon; Holy Curiosity: Encountering Jesus’ Provocative Questions; Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church and A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson.

Trygve Johnson

Faculty Mentor

Hinga-Boersma Dean of the Chapel at Hope College, Trygve Johnson was mentored by Eugene Peterson for years and has absorbed Eugene’s pastoral ethos, working this vision into the soil of a university context. A graduate of Western Theological Seminary and the University of St. Andrews (Ph.D.), Trygve is the author of The Preacher as Liturgical Artist and a contributor to multiple other volumes.

Mandy Smith

Faculty Mentor

The long-tenured pastor of University Christian Church (Cincinnati, Ohio), Mandy Smith has recently returned to her Australian home to pastor St. Lucia Uniting Church in Brisbane, Queensland. Mandy embodies a unique intersection of pastor/writer/artist that resonates with the multi-layered questions of faithful  pastoral imagination. Mandy is a pastor to pastors, a writer for Christianity Today and author of The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry and Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith Beyond the Baggage of Western Culture. 

Robert Smith, Jr.

Guest Lecturer

Serving as pastor for 20 years of New Mission Missionary Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Robert Smith is Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School. Dr. Smith is also the author of A Mighty Long Journey: Reflections on Racial Reconciliation; Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life, and other titles.

Holy Presence: Eugene Peterson and the Pastoral Imagination

To be added to our waitlist to receive notification for when applications open for our next Holy Presence cohort, please use the “Request Info” button above and indicate your area of interest.

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