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.


News Obituary


  • I was an MDiv student 2000-2003. Richard was my favourite prof. It’s true what they say – you remember a person’s kindness. I will never forget my time at North Park Seminary; it was one of the prime formative experiences of my adult life. Christians have the assurance that when they leave this life, and go to join God in the next. And yet, I mourn for the amazing person Richard was among us, and hope for solace for his family.

  • I first met Richard at North Park in the early ’60’s through the College News and, I believe, at the Coffee Pot restaurant (now Tre Kroner). Then he returned to the North Park community. The memories are many, but I remember visiting with Richard when he was sharing a household with some guys named Johnson and Erickson and others. Then a visit to Douglas Park and the Carlson—Hedstrom apartment—a visit that was encouraging to me—a guy struggling to keep his head above water in the seminary. I also valued his wisdom and insights on organizational development that were shared in pastors seminary in the ’70’s in Lansing, Michigan. Whether in one to one conversations or in group settings, one was with Richard, a man who could be trusted in teaching and caring relationship. And the times with Jolene have been no different. Grace and Peace to you, Jolene, your family, and to all who have been touched by Christ through Richard.

  • Richard and Jolene were very good to us during our wonderful year at North Park Seminary. While Jolene changed my mind about female pastors, not through argument but excellent pastoring, Richard treated me, as he did all his students, like I mattered. With a twinkle in his eye, Richard modeled love for God, family and church. He even spoke passionately about and worked for justice a couple of decades before it was cool for evangelicals of our complexion to do so. May Richard’s witness inspire humility, patience and kingdom-expectation in us all.

  • Wonderful memories of this godly man. I’m thankful we got to minister for a bit at Douglas Park together, & that I got to serve him afternoon pastries & coffee often when I waitressed at Tre Kronor (then Svea). Peace to his memory & to Jolene, his lovely wife.

  • To Jolene and the Carlson Family,

    I will ever be grateful for the experience of knowing a man in Richard Carlson who was the embodiment of the Word of God lived out among those who needed to see it. The Word was preached, taught, embraced, illustrated, and made real in him. I knew Richard as a friend, encourager, teacher, mentor, counselor, co-laborer, and pastor.

    Richard walked with me through a few places in my life that were extremely difficult. I made it by God’s grace, faith, and Richard and Jolene. I thank God and the Carlson family for sharing Richard with me. May God’s grace abide with and in each of you now for the comfort, strength, and peace needed for this part of your journey.

    Lovingly submitted,

    Dennis Dobson, Sr.

  • Dear Jolene and family. Our prayers are with you. May God bless you with his peace

  • Dear Jolene, may God’s presence fully accompany you during these days of grieving the loss of your life-long mate. He is remembered with great love and admiration.

  • Richard was part of that band of professors whose wisdom and hilarious camaraderie made their students aspire to be like them, who were so much like Jesus. I will never forget Richard saying that the office of pastor resides in the person, and not in the specific church where you may serve. That sustained me during a long season of waiting for a place of call. Peace be to his memory. Jolene, what a gift you shared with the whole Covenant community! May God comfort you and your kids in this time of sadness. You are not alone.

  • I am one of the fortunate ones to have had Dr. Carlson as a professor. His challenge to me was and continues to be to look at ministry as a life calling——a vocation, not as a job. But I also got to see his compassionate side as he personally took me under his wing when I had a hard time finding a CPE location and an internship. He was an advocate for me and someone I could trust when the questions came.

    To Rev. Jolene and family and friends, the prayers of this grateful pastor and the prayers of the Covenant Churches of Stephenson, Michigan are with you. May you all feel God’s love and presence in this time.

    Grace and peace to his memory.

  • I knew Richard as a teacher when I was a student at North Park Seminary, and as an advisor for my internship. I think, though, that when I became a member of Douglas Park Covenant Church when Jolene was pastor, I came to know him the best. I particularly remember us painting the fire escape with red paint at a work day at the church. I also remember going to lunch after church at Fiesta Tapitia. I later lived for eight years in a church apartment in a 98 percent Hispanic/Mexican neighborhood where the church was located. Richard, bless you for your openness, your honesty with me about the internship and your faithfulness to me and others. My prayers are for Jolene and her children. Melinda Hunter, M.Div 1990

  • I remember we called him PC, short for Pastor Carlson from Douglas Park Covenent Church. He picked up all the kids on Friday night for church, he called us his Little Lord Disciples. He took us everywhere. I remember him taking us to see Billy Graham. He took went door to door selling candy so we can go to camp. He did my Confirmation, he baptized me. I remember running all the way to church to watch him and Jolene get married. The most important thing he did in my life was, he kept his promise to me. I asked him when I was ten years old, PC, when I get older will you marry me? He said yes Angelita I will. He married my husband and I thirty-two years ago at Douglas Park Covenant Church.
    I love you PC. God bless.

    Angelita Mendez Lara

  • Professor Richard Carlson was an encourager. I met him during my second semester at North Park Theological Seminary and thank God for the wisdom and heart of compassion that he richly blessed Professor Carlson with.

  • Richard was instrumental in my call to ministry. I knew I was supposed to go to North Park Theological Seminary. Richard helped me discern “where to next.” Amen to Ryan Cooper’s comment.

  • A whole generation of Covenant pastors and the churches and institutions that they serve have been profoundly shaped by the life and ministry of Richard Carlson as pastor, teacher, and friend! He embodied the very best of what it means to be both prophet and priest, tireless worker for justice and inclusion for all who seek to live out the calling of Christ, and one who reflected in all that he did the life of one deeply committed to Christ and the church. His death is a tragic loss to his family and to all who knew him!

  • Richard was that kind of teacher. Even in a class on cults where I was looking for ammo to blast away at those in error, his presence and person invited me to love beyond boundaries and to notice commonality where I would rather not have.

  • Richard, though quiet in sprit, spoke very loudly through witness. Year after year, he sat in ACCW meetings, sometimes as the only man present. He was a pioneering example of advocacy! His work with Pastor Jemison for racial reconciliation were often at the center of our many conversations. His laughter was contagious and his tears were authentic. He was an encouraging mentor to me when I attended North Park Seminary and his big smile continued to welcome me, over the years, whenever I came back to Chicago. Richard was a visionary leader and a passionate professor who challenged his students to expand and deepen their understanding of God’s call. He spoke with wisdom and candor which really helped me through some rough seasons of ministry. I am so thankful to God that I had this opportunity, in this life, to learn from him. Jolene, I am praying for you now and I am thankful to you for sharing Richard with all of us, his students and colleagues for all of these many years. He will really be missed.

  • Dear Jolene, thank you for sharing Richard with us these several decades! My prayers are with you and your loved ones. Please know that Richard and you are “loved ones” to so many of us.

    With love and compassion!
    Deb Gustafson

  • All who encountered Richard, grieve the loss of a man who embodied Micah 6:8. ‘Welcome home, Richard! Well done, good, and faithful servant’

    • I will always remember two specific things about Dr. Carlson. When I first really learned about Centering Prayer under his teaching and during the Q and A the question came up as to how to respond to the those who wondered how one might be certain that it is God that you are sitting with during your time in prayer. His response to the question of how you know you’re connecting with God, “It depends on who you’re waiting for.”
      The other thing I’ll always remember is a sign on his office door. “Jesus knows me. This I love.” Thank you Dr. Carlson. Your gentle spirit in your teaching has born much fruit.

      • Remembering Richard

        “Jesus knows me. This I love.”
        Now my life is hid above.
        He has claimed me as his own;
        This assures me – I AM KNOWN!

      • Richard Carlson was a friend to the stranger. We had the privilege to be his students when we came from Colombia to do seminary studies at North Park Theological Seminary. We met a friend, a tutor, and a good listener. We will always remember him and his challenging and practical lessons.

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