The Rev. William Berg was a man of books, a man in motion at home and abroad, but most of all, a man of God.
Berg, who preached his last sermon at age 102 in December, died Feb. 11 of congestive heart failure in Minneapolis.
He served as pastor at several churches and traveled the world as evangelism director for the former Lutheran Church in America in the 1950s and ’60s. While pastor at Augustana Lutheran in Minneapolis, he helped start the Community Emergency Service in 1971, which continues to provide food and shelter for the needy in the Phillips neighborhood, said his daughter Anne Carlson of Minnetonka.
“His major focus was helping meet the needs of the community,” she said. “But that always came with the spiritual message of God’s love.” She said that, in summer months, Augustana became “the church without walls, bringing the message of Jesus Christ to the neighborhood” while serving free meals Wednesday nights in the church parking lot.
“He had a passion for preaching, for people and for evangelism,” Anne Carlson said.
Berg’s father, Swedish immigrant John Berg, was the pastor at a Swedish-speaking church in tiny Tustin, Mich. John Berg died suddenly on the day William graduated with a degree in theater and speech from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. William Berg arrived home a few hours before his father died. He filled in as pastor at his dad’s churches for a year until a replacement was found, Carlson said. Then he went to Augustana Seminary and, at his first church in Rock Island, met Marta Carlson, the woman who would be his wife for 55 years.
After retiring in 1980 as pastor of Augustana Lutheran, Berg became a spiritual leader in the Minnesota branch of the United Christian Ashram. It is a Christian retreat program founded by his mentor, the Methodist missionary and author E. Stanley Jones.
Berg wrote eight books in retirement and had a stack of about 20 books that he read parts of every day, his daughter said. The stack included the Bible and two books of poetry written by his wife.
He also continued his daily habit of praying for an hour or more for more than 100 people on his list. He asked for God’s blessing or help for more specific needs he was aware of, Carlson said. He also kept up his prolific letter writing to encourage people he had met. He dictated letters to a secretary who came once a week until the week he died, said Bill Berg, his son.
Bill Berg, an administrator for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte, N.C., said he will miss his father’s humor and letters.
“He was such a tower of strength,” Bill Berg said. “He was so positive. He’d say, ‘Thank God for this walker or for my pills.’ Rather than complain, he was grateful he had things that made his life a little easier.”
Berg preached at Augustana just after his 100th birthday on Pentecost Sunday in May 2010. He told the Star Tribune then that he chose to preach on Pentecost because it was his favorite holiday, the day on the Christian calendar that denotes the Holy Spirit entering the disciples after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
“Easter is nice because it celebrates God being for us,” Berg said. “But Pentecost — God in us — is the most important, because nothing happens until God is in it.”
Berg was preceded in death by his wife, Marta, and daughter Marcia Conrad. He is survived by son Bill and daughter Anne Carlson, seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday with visitation one hour prior at Normandale Lutheran Church, 6100 Normandale Road, Edina.
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