Pressing On

by Bob Bach

Located right in the center of beautiful Lake Washington just a few miles east of downtown Seattle is Mercer island, home to Covenant Shores, one of the retirement communities, of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Covenant Shores sits on 12 acres of lakefront, and in this rural-like setting, residents can enjoy lovely views of Seattle, Mt. Ranier, tile Cascades and Olympic mountains. It is Sunday evening here at the Shores and time for Vespers. Nearly 100 residents have gathered and Vic Bergquist, accompanied on the piano by his talented wife, Esther, are leading them in singing. Aaron Markuson, 94-year-old veteran Covenant pastor, will preach tonight. A rotation of preachers, mainly residents, share in the Sunday Vespers. They include Dwight Elving, Mel Metcalf, Al White, Aaron, and David Jobe from the pastoral staff at First Covenant Church in downtown Seattle.

Aaron's journey to the Shores' pulpit began in Rockford, Illinois. He was born on September 1, 1910 to Swedish immigrants Emma and John Markuson. They were godly parents and a part of the evangelism minded First Covenant Church of Rockford. Two of Emma and John's 10 children died in infancy. Aaron was next to the youngest. The parents did not want their children to be known as "green Swedes" so they insisted that English be spoken at home. They also provided a strong spiritual foundation which they nurtured through family involvement at First Covenant. Aaron came to the Lord at age 12 during special meetings held by Clarence Nelson who was Pastor of Evanston, Illinois Covenant Church at the time and later became President of North Park College and Seminary and, after that, President of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Aaron went to the altar and surrendered his life to whatever path that the Lord would lead him. August Erickson, pastor of First Covenant, and Aaron's older brother, Harry, who organized Saturday night Bible studies for young people deeply influenced Aaron's early spiritual life.

Aaron's father died of cancer when Aaron was 15. In the next few months, his brother, Ben, age 24, died from tuberculosis and his sister Esther, age 19, died of quick consumption. The Markuson family endured these three deaths within a span of five months. In later years, Aaron translated the Swedish hymn by Nils Frykman, "Why Should I Be Anxious?" He said he chose that hymn "Because it was my mother's favorite song." Understanding what she had to endure during those months makes the hymn even more significant‹especially these lines: " Why should I be anxious, I have such a friend, who bears in His heart all my woe. This friend is the Savior, on Him I depend, His love is eternal I know."

Aaron graduated from Rockford High School in 1927 and went to work in the office of National Lock Company for four years. He was very active in First Covenant Church in Rockford, especially in young people's work. Still in his teens he became a Sunday School teacher of boys just three years younger than he. Two of his Sunday School students were Harold "Yank" Swanson, who later became the football coach at North Park College, and Earl Dahlstrom, who became a professor at North Park Theological Seminary. In 1931, Aaron answered the call to prepare for the Christian ministry and went to North Park College and Theological Seminary. Due to the Great Depression and the needs of the family, he returned to Rockford after only a year. He obtained work in the office at Burd Piston Ring Company. The calling to the ministry remained strong, and in 1934 he returned to North Park College and Theological Seminary to complete his studies. In 1937, he met a North Park student from South Dakota named Margaret Gusarson. Aaron served the Covenant church in Salem, South Dakota, for a couple summers as part of his seminary program. Margaret was from Swedona, about 50 miles from Salem. They were married at the Swedona, Covenant Church on May 18, 1940. "Yank" Swanson, Aaron's former Sunday School student was the best man.

Aaron graduated from North Park Seminary in 1937. His first pastorate was Winnetka Covenant Church where he served from 1937-1942. It was a congregation of about 40, mostly Swedish kitchen maids. Services were held on Sunday evenings because the maids were on duty in homes during the morning. They had a Thursday evening service as well. North Park students served as Sunday school teachers and helpers, so Aaron and Margaret would drive to North Park, pick up the students, and drive them back after the services.

In 1942, Aaron received a call to the Cambridge Covenant Church in Massachusetts. "It still amazes me that I received that call," says Aaron. "If I had been a member of the pastoral search committee at Cambridge, I would not have recommended calling Aaron Markuson as our pastor. I was only 31 years old; the Winnetka. Church I had served for five years had only 40 members, and did not have a morning worship service. But I think God gave us a good ministry there." It was a major change for Aaron and Margaret. They went from tiny Winnetka Covenant to one of the leading churches on the East Coast with a strong congregation. Aaron served the Cambridge church from 1942-1951. Two children were born to Aaron and Margaret in Cambridge‹John Bruce in 1942 and Marcia in 1945. The Covenant Hymnal Commission was working on a new hymnal during this time and Elmer Westlund, the choir director at Cambridge Covenant Church was one of the commission members. He encouraged Aaron to assist in translating some of the heritage Swedish hymns and Aaron translated "Why Should I Be Anxious" written by Nils Frykman which was included in the The Hymnal of the Covenant (green) of 1950, p. 366.

In 1951, Aaron accepted the Covenant's call to become Executive Secretary of Youth Ministry and the family moved to Chicago. For the next 19 years he organized and directed the national efforts of the Covenant churches in youth and education. This department later became the Department of Christian Education. In 1970, he was called to the Bethany Covenant Church in Minneapolis where he served until his retirement in 1975.

Subsequently, he and Margaret moved to Vashon Island in Washington. Aaron responded to several interim pastoral calls during the next several years. He served Bethlehem Covenant in Minneapolis, three different times at First Covenant in Seattle, and at Montecito Covenant in Santa Barbara, California. In 1982, he became the first chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community. He commuted from Vashon by ferry to initiate this program for the residents at the Shores. He and Margaret moved to Covenant Shores in 1996 where he continues to serve as the Lord leads.

"I have been so blessed to serve in the ministry," he said softly. "I am so grateful for the rich foundation of the Rockford Covenant Church which influenced me greatly. I am also so grateful for the wonderful teaching I received from Eric Hawkinson and Nils Lund and, of course, the faithful support of Margaret. She has been a wonderful pastor's wife and held us together, especially during the years I was away from home so much during our time in Chicago. God has been with us through physical difficulties and through it all still gives us opportunities to serve."

The Sunday evening Vespers service at Covenant Shores sometimes ends with a benediction by Aaron‹most of it written by himself. It is also a fitting benediction to this story of a Covenant pastor and his wife, who after 64 years of life together, are still pressing on.

"And now may the wondrous peace of Christ be with us in all our going out and coming in, and may we all come at last to our good Father's House, to go no more out forever. Amen"