I still remember the day I met Eric Erickson. It was the third day of my new job
as director of the Commission on Life and Work for the Minnesota Council of
Churches. The commission (functionally my board of directors) was meeting all
day at the Church Center in Minneapolis. I was nervous about meeting this
diverse group of people — clergy and lay leaders from a variety of Minnesota’s
Methodist, Presbyterian, Brethren, Moravian, Episcopalian, Baptist, UCC, and
Lutheran church bodies.
First on the agenda, even before official introductions, was the devotion. The
pastor who represented the Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA pulled
out his material which included two stacks of paper: One pile included clipped
newspaper articles; the other, photocopies of biblical material. I had heard about
Reinhold Niebuhr’s newspaper-in-one-hand-and-the-Bible-in-the-other
quotation, but I had never before seen it incarnate.
Eric moved seamlessly from one stack to another. At the end I sat amazed. He
had not used flashy news stories and the most well-known scriptural passages.
Instead, he had grabbed the simple, the mundane, the common, and created the
uncommon — a devotion that both challenged and comforted. He connected
that which seemed disconnected and perhaps even unconnectible.
Eric clearly could see possibilities for relationship and order that most others
After a few commission meetings, Eric told me I should meet his daughter,
Alyssa, a Luther College student, because we shared many common interests.
He later brought her by the office while taking her back to their Alexandria home
for a school break.
Alyssa soon was working with refugees as an intern at the council. When I later
changed jobs, I hired Alyssa for an opening there as well. And then she later
took a job working on child labor issues that my oldest daughter was involved
with. Alyssa became a mentor to my daughter. And so the conenctions
In the center of Holy Week this year, I joined hundreds of others in celebrating
the life and ministry of Eric Erickson. After battling cancer for several years, he
had succumbed. As I encountered Jesus’ journey toward resurrection, Eric was
there, still incarnating a ministry or relationship. And, I suspect, still with stacks
of paper nearby.