Tribute to John Buchanan upon receiving the David Steele Distinguished Writer Award from the Presbyterian Writers Guild at the 220th General Assembly (2012) in Pittsburgh, Penn.
Remarks by Linda Valentine, Executive Director, General Assembly Mission Council PC(USA)
“I spoke at the [Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago] congregational meeting to dissolve the relationship with John Buchanan. I began by saying we certainly have some strange nomenclature in the Presbyterian Church-– Stated Clerk, Moderator, Ruling Elder, Session.
“But dissolve the relationship??? The one who is likely to dissolve today is me!
“I ended by saying no act of Presbyterian polity can dissolve our relationship with John.
“And indeed that has been true. John and I serve on the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation board. And John continues to serve the church and to be a friend.
“Our family grew up with John as our pastor.
“Chris [Valentine] and I joined as newlyweds shortly before John came.
“He came in the year our first child, Ben, was born. He baptized our daughters, Jackie and Christie, and confirmed all three. We have all gone on mission trips, been in pageants, served meals, lit the Advent candle, learned in Sunday school, and served as elders or deacons, or both. Many of our closest friends are those we made here. Fourth Church, and John in particular, have shaped our lives. John’s pastoral care, his leadership and the words of his sermons have guided us through losses and disappointments, vocational ups and downs and joys – so many, many joys.
“And we’re not here [in Chicago] anymore because of John.
“About six years ago, I received a call – out of the blue – from a recruiter who was searching for someone to lead the mission work of the denomination. I sensed John’s hand in this, and so immediately called him. As we spoke, he told me what a huge challenge it would be. ‘Can it be done?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know’ was his honest reply, ‘but it’s worth a try. The world needs what Presbyterians do best,’ he said.
“John believes that in his soul. John believes deeply in the Presbyterian Church, a church that is open and democratic, that respects diversity of opinion as each and every one of us is called to wrestle with what it means to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. In his words, John ‘wants the church to be involved in sticky issues,’ to be bold and prophetic, to challenge and at the same time to do so respectfully. And no one does that better, no one models that more, than John himself.
“In these past six years, I have travelled extensively, meeting thousands of Presbyterians and hundreds of Presbyterian leaders. Sitting for so many years in the pews at Fourth, I had great reverence for John, but I honestly had little awareness of the church beyond this congregation. And what I’ve seen is this:
“No one in the whole denomination is mentioned as often with such respect as John Buchanan. Seminary presidents and professors, pastors, denominational leaders, staff – even those who do not know of my connection to Fourth – will quote him, cite him, speak of his leadership.
“Through his service in the denomination, as moderator of the General Assembly, speaker and writer, on innumerable committees and projects, in Christian-Jewish dialogues, as leader of the Covenant Network and through his writing and work on the Christian Century, John’s impact on the church is tremendous.
“John has cultivated leadership for the whole church. His congregation is like a great teaching hospital. John’s protégées are everywhere. Fourth church members have served on the boards of every denominational agency. Former ministers are serving in congregations throughout the country, and in leadership positions in seminaries and church related organizations.
“John has a remarkable gift for seeing the talents and potential in others. By calling those forth he has blessed people beyond what they would have imagined for themselves. I have been a beneficiary of that great gift of John’s as have so many others.
“My husband Chris gets to travel with me, and we have seen scores of preachers across the country and in other parts of the world. More than once Chris has said, ‘I think I’m more a Buchanatarian than I am a Presbyterian.’
“That’s funny, but John wouldn’t like it said. John loves being Presbyterian and would never claim that he invented it — although he certainly and completely embodies what it means to be Presbyterian.
“In a book, John describes the Presbyterian, Reformed tradition. He writes that it is not a list of specific beliefs but a way of being Christian that is characterized by ‘intellectual rigor, intentional worldliness, an open-minded trust in God’s sovereignty, God’s gracious and good creation, the God-given freedom and responsibility of the human creature, a realistic appraisal of the human condition, and an always hopeful trust in God’s care and providence – all growing out of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, who is head of the church and Lord of all.’
“No wonder Chris is confused. That way of being Christian describes John and how he has lived his life, the model he has been for us, and the message with which he has inspired us again and again.
“May God bless you and keep you, John, as you continue to take your light into the world.”
 Presbyterians Being Reformed, Reflections on what the Church Needs Today, ed. Robert Bullock, Jr., Geneva Press 2006