Spreading the Word: University Presbyterian Church's Rev. Earl Palmer looks forward to 'a broader ministry'

He doesn't like chocolate or Mexican food, but he absolutely loves Dryer's vanilla ice cream and sharing the Gospel of Christ.

For the Rev. Earl Palmer, an ordained Presbyterian minister for 50 years and currently senior pastor at University Presbyterian Church (UPC), retirement does not mean giving up what he loves.

Serving as UPC's senior pastor for the last 16 years, Palmer plans to remain at the church until a 13-member committee finds a new pastor. The process could take up to a year and a half.

"I am 75 years old and feeling in very good health, and I love this ministry. But I want to be able to teach in different places," Palmer said. "It just seemed right - this was a chance to make a move into a broader ministry for me."

He and his wife, Shirley, have seven grandchildren, and he expressed a desire to spend more time with family.

Faithful to the message

Palmer said what he will miss most is the "weekly worship and responsibility of preaching to this great congregation - it's the biggest joy."

However, he is excited to move into a new phase of worship: going to church and listening to others as they take on his role.

He said that he hopes his parishioners will believe that he has "been faithful to the central message of the Gospel and that [he has] encouraged people to grow in grace, as well as grow in knowledge."

Mike Gaffney, UPC's college pastor for the last 12 and a half years, said Palmer has imparted invaluable theological insights at all of their weekly staff meetings: "Earl is a great teacher, but more than that, he has a way of looking at the Bible and Scripture that is just very unique."

Gaffney said he also admires Palmer's constantly positive outlook in almost any situation.

"One of the greatest gifts he's given to me is that he has this ability to see the glass is half-full in any situation," Gaffney said.

As a young father with three small children, Gaffney said he has always felt supported by Palmer. "It was the best encouragement - he told me, 'I want you to be a family man first, Mike.'"

A charismatic teacher

Since he works predominantly with college students, Gaffney also expressed gratitude and admiration for Palmer's ability to connect with a younger audience. He explained that many churches often have only one generation of attendees, whereas in UPC's case, "there are 97-year-olds to 7-year-olds," and Gaffney believes that is due in large part to Palmer's presence.

"Here's a man at 75 that has never once ceased to be an advocate for the next generation," Gaffney said.

This is evidenced in the positive response of young people who attend UPC.

Will Chu, a senior at the University of Washington and member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, said that when he decided to attend UW, family friends who had known Palmer when he was a pastor at University of California-Berkeley highly recommended that Chu go hear him speak.

Chu, an occasional usher at UPC evening services, said he usually attends with a few of his fellow fraternity brothers, but "now especially that I know he's going to retire, I try to go as often as I can."

He said that Palmer has an amazing historical perspective and knowledge of the Bible, as well as being a charismatic speaker.

"I think he's able to relate [to college students].... He does a good job of interpreting the text, and you're attentive throughout the whole sermon," Chu said.

Nancy Schuldt, a member of the Presbyterian Church for more than 15 years, has worked the last four and a half years as Palmer's executive assistant. "I would describe him as a person who embodies joy, grace and generosity. There's nothing that delights him more than to just sit down and visit with somebody...and talk about whatever is important to them," she said.

She also said she would miss his great stories: "He has the most wonderful ability to craft a story that illustrates a point that he's trying to make."

Focusing on wholeness

For Palmer, his stories and teachings are not ending but expanding. The author of 18 books, Palmer said that his goal for the next year is, "from the text of the Bible, to help people make their discovery of who Christ is and what it means for them to be believers and for them to be involved in the world where they live."

A common goal of focusing on the "wholeness of the Gospel and the wholeness of each of us as believers and investing our lives in the world as Christians" is something Palmer said he is always striving for.

He also emphasized that UPC is a biblical and Christ-centered church - a church that cares about people coming to know Christ and so his hope and expectation is that the next senior pastor will share that same vision.

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