Holy Presence: Eugene Peterson and the Pastoral Imagination

next cohort Launches April 29, 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 begin our immersion into Peterson’s pastoral writings, plumbing central themes of Eugene’s pastoral theology. We will begin with two of his foundational works yielding his pastoral convictions: The Contemplative Pastor and Working the Angles as well as an entrée into 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). We will also read A Burning in My Bones, the biography of Eugene as well as Mandy Smith’s The Vulnerable Pastor.

Year Two: The second year will continue to explore Eugene’s pastoral theology, centered on Five Smooth Stones, Under the Unpredictable Plant, and The Unnecessary Pastor. We will venture further into the posture of indwelling scripture for pastoral practice, reading selections from several works integrating Eugene’s Scriptural imagination: Reversed Thunder (Revelation), Answering G.od (Psalms), Leap Over a Wall (the Life of David), and Traveling Light (Galatians). We will also read The Pastor: A Memoir. 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.

Year three: Reading for this third year will engage Eugene and Eric’s book Letters to a Young Pastor as well as 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, interacting with Peterson’s pastoral theology and imagination for their own particular context.

Ongoing: Depending on the flow, we may have an occasional whole-cohort meeting via Zoom between residencies. Mentors will host 1-2 Zoom gatherings with their smaller research and writing circle.

*this overview and schedule is representative and subject to adaptation and revision.

REsidency Dates

April 29 – May 3, 2024 – Holland, MI
January 6 – 10, 2025 – Holland, MI
May 5 – 9, 2025 – Flathead Lake, MT
January 2026 – Holland, MI
May 2026 – Isle of Iona, Scotland
January 2027 – Holland, MI

Meet our


Winn Collier

Lead Faculty Member

A pastor for 28 years and the founding pastor of All Souls (Charlottesville, VA), Winn is the director of the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Christian Imagination at WTS. Winn is the author of 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

Cohort Mentor

Having served for 19 years as Hinga Boersma Dean of the Chapel, Hope College (Holland, MI), Trygve has sought to work a pastoral imagination into the soil of a university context. Trygve is the author of The Preacher as Liturgical Artist: Metaphor, Identity, and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ and a contributor to Theology and Tolkien and other volumes.

Mandy Smith

Cohort Mentor

Serving as pastor of St. Lucia Uniting Church in Brisbane (Queensland, Australia), Mandy embodies a unique intersection of pastor/writer/artist and brings fresh hope to the pursuit of a faithful pastoral imagination. Mandy is the author of The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry and Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith Beyond the Baggage of Western Culture.

Don Coleman

Guest Lecturer

Founding pastor of East End Fellowship (Richmond, Virignia), Don’s ministry is rooted in the same Church Hill neighborhood where he’s spent his whole life. Don has also served as the board chairman of Richmond School Board and on the board of For Richmond.

Cherith Fee Nordling

Guest Lecturer

As a theologian serving Christ’s Church, Cherith has held posts at Northern Seminary, the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, and Regent College. Cherith is author of Knowing God By Name: A Conversation Between Elizabeth A. Johnson and Karl Barth and an upcoming book on the humanity of Jesus.

Holy Presence: Eugene Peterson and the Pastoral Imagination

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