Noted Mennonite author, speaker and educator David Augsburger ’60, SEM ’63, died two weeks ago after a bout with cancer and other health problems. He was 85.
In a Facebook post about his passing, the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference shared that Augsburger had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer on Oct. 23. He died peacefully at his California home surrounded by family and loved ones on Oct. 30, the post reads.
A memorial service for Augsburger will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 19, at La Verne Church of the Brethren in La Verne, California.
Augsburger was recognized as an authority in the fields of pastoral care, counseling and reconciliation. He was a prolific writer, penning more than 20 books including Conflict Mediation Across Cultures (1992), The Freedom of Forgiveness (1988) and Sustaining Love: Healing and Growth in the Passages of Marriage (1989). He authored the popular Caring Enough series of books, beginning with Caring Enough to Confront: How to Transform Conflict with Compassion and Grace in 1980. His feature articles have appeared in more than 100 different periodicals.
Former Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS) Professor Lonnie Yoder, associate dean of the seminary from 2010 to 2016, called Augsburger a pioneer in the field.
“If he didn’t write the first book, it was among the first in pastoral counseling in terms of culture: Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures (1986),” Yoder said. “He was at the forefront of that dimension of pastoral counseling, which is now complete with lots of work. He was one of the first to recognize that when you do counseling, cultural context is really important.”
Augsburger also was known by many for his voice. From 1961 to 1975, listeners across the country tuned in to hear him speak and promote the Gospel on The Mennonite Hour radio program, which was based in Harrisonburg. His productions won 10 awards for creative religious broadcasting.
“His style focused on the Anabaptist evangelical response to the social concerns of the day: war and peace, racism and interpersonal relationships. Witty turns of language and thought held attention and conveyed truth” (GAMEO).
Augsburger held a bachelor of arts degree with a major in Bible from Eastern Mennonite College (EMC) and a bachelor of divinity degree from EMS. He received a PhD from the Claremont School of Theology in Southern California.
His brother, Myron, was a professor of theology at EMC and led the college and seminary as its fifth president from 1965 to 1980. Another brother of his, Aaron Donald “A. Don,” graduated from EMC and EMS and taught in the field of Christian education at the school.
Augsburger was a pastor at Trissels Mennonite Church in Broadway, Virginia, from 1963 to 1971. He taught at Northern Baptist Seminary near Chicago and at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, before joining Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He served as professor emeritus of pastoral care and counseling at Fuller from 1990 to 2018. He and his wife Leann pastored Peace Mennonite Fellowship, a church in Claremont, California.
In a news release, Fuller Theological Seminary touted Augsburger’s work as a dedicated minister of the Mennonite Church and as a diplomat of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.
“Augsburger’s impact reached far beyond the classroom,” it reads. “He taught counseling, led workshops internationally, and provided supervision and therapy, embodying the principles he espoused in his teachings.”
‘A communicator of outstanding ability’
George Brunk III ’61, SEM ’64, was a year behind Augsburger at EMC and EMS but the two were close friends. The duo sang “shoulder to shoulder” in choral groups as bass singers, Brunk said.
“He was a person of multiple talents,” Brunk said. “He was always a prominent voice in whatever setting he was in.”
Brunk would later serve as a professor at EMS and as dean of the seminary from 1977 to 1999. Although Augsburger was not employed by Eastern Mennonite, he would often return to campus for speaking engagements.
“He was a communicator of outstanding ability,” Brunk said. “He had an ability to grasp onto big ideas, but he gave attention to communicating those ideas and to applying them in practical ways to life.”
Yoder, a former professor of pastoral care and counseling at EMS, recalled Augsburger speaking at the School for Leadership Training — now called Shalom Academy — at the seminary a few decades ago.
“He did an amazing job of connecting with students,” Yoder said. “He was obviously a very brilliant individual, but he could communicate in a way that people understood.”
When EMS Professor Tim Reardon, who received his PhD from Fuller, was a pastor at Pasadena Mennonite Church in California, he asked Augsburger for help resolving a conflict within the congregation.
“He was a great resource for understanding reconciliation issues,” Reardon said.
He lauded Augsburger’s support for members of the LGBTQ+ community in the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, and spoke highly of him as a mentor.
“He was such a loving, genuine and honest person,” Reardon said. “His family loved him so much. It’s hard to imagine he’s gone.”