Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and influential Christian author, passed away in his sleep on Monday at the age of 96.
Buechner, who was described as a “writer’s writer” and “minister’s minister,” inspired Christians with his works throughout his career, which spanned over six decades. He has written nearly 40 books in various genres, including fiction, autobiography, theology, essays and sermons.
According to Religion News Service, Buechner’s novel Lion Country was a finalist for the 1972 National Book Award. Another of his novels, Godric, was a finalist for the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He also won third place at the O. Henry Awards in 1955 for his short story, The Tiger, which was published in The New Yorker.
Buechner was born on July 11, 1926, in New York City and often moved with his family throughout his early childhood as his father was seeking employment. His father later died of suicide when Buechner was 10 years old.
In 1948, Buechner earned a degree in English from Princeton University and rose to fame in 1950 after publishing his first novel, A Long Day’s Dying. Several years later, Buechner moved to New York City to lecture at New York University and to focus more on his writing.
Despite not going to church growing up, after moving to New York City, Buechner began attending Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, which was next door to his home. In a video posted on YouTube by the Frederick Buechner Center, the late novelist shared what the Rev. George Buttrick said in a Sunday sermon that changed his life.
“Christ is crowned in the hearts of those who love him and believe in him amidst confession and tears and great laughter,” Buechner said, quoting Buttrick.
“I was so taken aback by ‘great laughter’ that I found the tears springing to my eyes,” he recalled.
Afterward, Buechner told Buttrick that he wanted to learn more about Christianity, in which the pastor encouraged him to attend Union Theological Seminary. Buechner graduated from Union with a Bachelor of Divinity degree and later received nine honorary degrees. In 1958, he was ordained at the same church where Buttrick’s words inspired him.
That same year, Buechner launched the religion department at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he taught for nine years before moving to Vermont with his family.
He has also been awarded lectureships at Harvard and Yale universities and taught at Tufts University, Calvin College and Wheaton College.
As the New York Times reported, Buechner married his wife Judith Merck in 1956. Her father, George W. Merck, was the chairman of the American pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.
Buechner is survived by Judith, their three daughters, a son-in-law and 10 grandchildren.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Shaun Taylor
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.