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Reverend Philip M. Axelson, 85 of Warren, Rhode Island, a former longtime Barrington, RI resident, passed away peacefully into the presence of the Lord in the early hours of December 27, 2023, surrounded by family. He was the loving husband of Jonna Beth (Christman) Axelson for over 62 years, and they lived a full, adventurous, and faith-filled life together.
Born on March 19, 1938, in Wenatchee, Washington, Phil was the son of Amsden and Pearl (Steiner) Axelson and raised in Bremerton, WA with his sister, Myrna (Anderson). He graduated from Bremerton East High School and then studied at Seattle Pacific College (SPC). He spent summer breaks working at fisheries in southeastern Alaska and upon his return to SPC, he wooed his sister's roommate, Jonna, with his nice car and rugged Alaskan tales. They married in 1961 and moved to Pasadena, California where he pursued a call to ministry, working in youth ministry and earning his Masters of Divinity at Fuller Seminary. Jonna gave birth to their first child, Camila on his graduation day.
Phil served in pastoral roles at churches across the United States: starting in Sacramento, CA, where their second child, David was born, heading back to Phil's Washington roots in Bremerton, WA where their youngest, Peter was born, next to Seattle, WA where Phil was ordained to Word and Sacrament through the Evangelical Covenant Church in 1968. Their next stop was Yakima, WA with their three young children in tow. In 1977, Phil and Jonna moved their family to St. Charles, Missouri to lead a church plant, Maranatha. After seven years, they moved again, heading to New England where Phil became the Pastor at the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) in Riverside, Rhode Island. They found a strong church family there and their adult children all settled in the surrounding area. Phil also helped initiate local startup churches including Christ Church in East Greenwich. In 1994, Phil and Jonna set out on a final adventure moving to Anchorage, Alaska where Phil served his last Pastoral role at First Church Anchorage and planted another church, Eagle River Covenant. After a decade in Alaska, he retired and they returned to the home they'd built years earlier on Hundred Acre Cove in Barrington, Rhode Island.
Phil often touted that he and Jonna were a great package, crediting his wife's musical talents that amplified their ministry at the churches they served. Phil too, had a knack for music with his bellowing singing voice that could be heard from any pew in the church. He also played the trombone. Phil was beloved by the congregations he served and known for the way he brought local churches and pastors together. Phil served on several Covenant regional and national boards. He especially enjoyed his years on the Evangelism and Prayer Commission and singing with the Ministers' Chorus. He also served in various roles at summer bible camps including Alpine, Mission Springs, Lily Del Dune, Covenant Beach, and Pilgrim Pines. Phil and Jonna were great travelers, road-tripping all over North America, Israel, and Europe. Phil loved to hike, being sure he was always the first to the top of the mountain, and was a great fisherman, later passing down his skill to his eldest grandson.
In his retirement, Phil enjoyed living close to his three children and six grandchildren, taking in the beautiful views of Hundred Acre Cove, becoming an active member again at the Riverside Covenant Church (RCC), volunteering as an usher at the Providence Performing Arts Center, telling animated stories reflecting on his adventurous years in Alaska, and spending Tuesday evenings with his local grandchildren.
In 2018, Phil and Jonna moved once more to join the Bagy Wrinkle Cove neighborhood in Warren, where Phil often joked they belonged since they'd become "baggy and wrinkled". There, he enjoyed the coastal setting, walks around the neighborhood, which over time took great effort, and frequent visits from family, including his five young great-grandchildren, whom he adored watching play. His final days included family-filled Christmas celebrations, many calls from loved ones afar, and a serenade from the RCC Men's Chorus, which he was previously a member of.
Phil was a devoted husband, brother, father, and "Papa Phil". He will be remembered for his legacy of cross-country ministry, his repertoire of stories-often made more exciting by his tendency to exaggerate, his big appetite, some of his taglines like "amen, amen and amen!", and his love for carrot cake, Starbucks chai lattes, oatmeal, and cherry chapstick. His voice will be greatly missed during family singalongs. Most of all, family and friends will remember Phil's unwavering faith in Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior.
Phil lived a full and meaningful life, touching many lives, especially those close to him. He is survived by his wife, Jonna Axelson; his children Camila Dimarco of Barrington, RI; David Axelson of Riverside, RI; and Peter (Gretchen) Axelson of Marstons Mills, Massachusetts; his grandchildren: Carisa (Eric) Schultheis, Axel (Kendra) Hogberg, Nella (Dennis) Falcione, Caleb Axelson, Anna Axelson, and Yalith Axelson; great-grandchildren: Walter, Otto, Ida, Mabel, and Wilfred; his sister Myrna (Steve) Anderson, and other beloved extended relatives.
A memorial service to celebrate Phil's life will be held at the Riverside Covenant Church on March 23, 2024, at 11:00 am.
Contributions to honor Phil are appreciated and may be sent to the Riverside Covenant Church, 165 Rounds Avenue, Riverside, RI 02915, or Alaska Christian College, 35109 Royal Pl, Soldotna, AK 99669.