Guild honors Buchanan, Kovacs at luncheon Reply

Guild honors Buchanan, Kovacs

by Kim Coulter, Office of the General Assembly

John Buchanan (right) receives award from John Underwood, PWG president

PITTSBURGH (July 5, 2012) – The Presbyterian Writers Guild sponsors a General Assembly luncheon biennially and issues awards for distinguish writer and first-book. At this year’s luncheon the Rev. John M. Buchanan was named winner of the 2012 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award. The award is given to a writer who has distinguished himself or herself in journalism, literature or scholarly writings. Buchanan has written books, including A New Church for a New World; Being Church, Becoming Community; and Sermons for the City, sermons and weekly columns as editor and publisher of The Christian Century.

Linda Valentine was there to say a few words about her friend and former pastor from Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Buchanan, who retired at the end of January after 48 years of ministry. Valentine was present at his retirement. “Buchanan was present at our children’s baptisms and confirmations”and throughout the time she and her family were members at Fourth, Valentine said. See text of her full remarks below.

Jack Haberer, editor and publisher of The Presbyterian Outlook said, “I don’t think of John so much as a distinguished writer, but as a distinguished pastor.” For four decades Buchanan has been pastor of the one of largest churches in the PC(USA) “and the church is still growing,” Haberer said.

“I’m honored beyond words. Especially because of the award name, the David Steele Award,” Buchanan said as he accepted the award. He went on to say, “I see myself not as a writer, but as a reader.”

Buchanan said he loves his work at The Christian Century, partially because he “gets to hang out with some great writers.” For those who love to read, he added, “How incredibly powerful it can be. The Word of God is powerful. When the word becomes flesh in our words. This is what we (pastors) are about.”

The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation’s First-Book Award recipient is the Rev. Kenneth E. Kovacs, for his book The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter and Conviction, published in 2011 by Peter Lang. Judges said he won for superior writing skills evident in this effort to make a scholarly work understandable and interesting.

Kovacs started his acceptance speech by telling about a dream he had three years ago, in which he saw papers from a box of his, blowing away in the wind. He felt this dream was referring to his 500-page Ph.D. dissertation that was put away in a box collecting dust. “It was then that I contacted a publisher,” he said.

He spoke of the Princeton Theological Seminary Professor James Loder with admiration and affection. “He was the most demanding professor,” Kovacs said. He said he especially admired Loder for “his faith, insight and reliance on God.”

Also announced this year is the Jameson-Hines Scholarship for Presbyterian students, graduates or under-grads enrolled in an accredited college, university or seminary. If you are planning or willing to write for the church through books, poems, blogs, news reports, feature stories, editing or curriculum writing, apply through PWG, The maximum scholarship amount is $5,000.

The Distinguished Writer Award carries a monetary grant of $1,000, plus travel and expenses to General Assembly. The 2009-10 winner was Eugene H. Peterson, author of more than 30 books including The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (NavPress Publishing Group, 2002).

The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation’s First-Book Award, formerly called the Angell Award, is given to Presbyterian authors of fiction, non-fiction, theological, how-to, photos with commentary, etc.– but should be the first-ever published book. The 2010 winner was Rebecca Barnes-Davies for her book, 50 Ways to Help Save the Earth: How You and Your Church Can Help Make a Difference (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY).

If you are interested in following their website blog or PWG membership, go to: or join them on Facebook at “The Presbyterian Writers Guild.”

Linda Valentine pays tribute to John Buchanan Reply

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) 

John Buchanan

“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.

Linda Valentine

“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[1], 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.”


[1] Presbyterians Being Reformed, Reflections on what the Church Needs Today, ed. Robert Bullock, Jr., Geneva Press 2006


Ken Kovacs wins First-Book Award Reply

Ken Kovacs wins First-Book Award     

Kenneth E. Kovacs

The winner of the First Book Award this year is Kenneth E. Kovacs, for his book The Relational Theology of James E. Loder, Encounter and Conviction, published in July of 2011 by Peter Lang.

The Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG) panel of judges voted to give the award to Kovacs for superior writing skills evident in this effort to make a scholarly work understandable and interesting. In a letter accompanying his book, the winning author told the judges: “Although it was written for an academic audience, it was really composed with the Church in mind.  I see myself as pastor-theologian and approached the text with this kind of awareness.”

Kenneth Kovacs is pastor of Catonsville Presbyterian Church inCatonsville,Maryland. He has also served churches inSt. Andrews,Scotland, andMendham,NJ. He studied atRutgersCollege,YaleDivinitySchool, theUniversityofSt. AndrewsinScotland, and Princeton Theological Seminary, where he encountered the relational theology of James E. Loder.

The First Book Award, formerly called the Angell Award, is given for the best first book published by a Presbyterian author. Books for this year’s award had to have been published in calendar year 2011. The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation has agreed to take over funding for the award and to give the award a new name. Previous funding came from the late Jim Angell, a noted writer and Presbyterian minister.

Two writers from opposite geographical corners of the country tied for second place this year.  Craig L. Godwin, in Spokane, Washington, wrote A Year of Plenty, describing thoughts, adventures and challenges during the year his family pledged to consume only what was local, used, homegrown or homemade. Their adventures in simple Christian living are described with thoughtful humor in this book, published by Spark House in 2011; and in his popular blog ( 

Nancy Kilgore, a minister member of Boston Presbytery living inVermont, had a novel, Sea Level, published by Quinnebec Press and The Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South. The setting for Sea Level isRichmondand a small town across the bay inVirginia. The novel follows the joys and struggles of a young woman minister and her family in the early 1980’s. The PWG panel of judges thought it was interesting, well crafted and true to the realities of that decade.

Honorable Mention goes to Charles Davidson, Beth Patton, and Mark W. Stoub.  Davidson wrote a book based on letters from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, entitled Bone Dead and Rising: Vincent Van Gogh and the Self Before God, published by Cascade Books in 2011. Davidson is a member of Peaks Presbytery, currently teaching pastoral theology and history at Virginia University of Lynchburg.

Beth Patton wrote and had published in 2011 a series of educational materials for women about women in the Bible, entitled The Red Tent Gathering. She lives inFullerton,CA, and is currently a candidate for Teaching Elder under the care of Los Ranchos Presbytery.

Mark W. Stoub wrote a mystery novel about a presbytery executive who became theTexasversion of Hercule Poirot when he investigated murders in Blood Under the Altar,  published by Bald Angel Books.  A Presbyterian minister for 35 years, Stoub lives inBay City,Texas

PWG board member Jane Hines, who convened the panel of First Book Award judges inNashville,TN, said, “Reading the books was a pleasant task; the hard part was choosing just one winner. They were all winners.”