After 19 years at the pulpit of , Pastor Jack Buckley is going to retire at the end of September. Over the course of his lifetime, Buckley has pastored churches that have seated hundreds and ones that fit in his living room.
Patch sat down with Pastor Jack to talk about his five decades of ministry. From Billy Graham to the Jesus Freaks, Buckley reflected on his spiritual roots and the “phenomenal journey — the long and winding road” that he has traveled.
What were your early church experiences? I attended Sunday school throughout my youth at a neighborhood Dutch Reformed church. By the time I got to be a high schooler, I was pretty torn. I was very faithful to the church on Sunday morning. Then the rest of the week, I tried to be James Dean, a rebel without a cause.
When we moved to Ft. Lauderdale in my junior year of high school, I went to a Methodist church with my aunt for about a year. Then, on Palm Sunday, I decided I was done. Church didn’t mean anything to me. Whatever that Sunday school stuff was in the past, it wasn’t the real story. I lived a secular life.
How did you go from rebel to preacher? I got saved watching Billy Graham on television as I was graduating from high school. After that conversion experience, I was eager find out about the Christian faith and the Bible. I was open to whoever would teach me the truth. So I went to Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist school, as a brand new, baby Christian. I met my wife Joanne there, so I got a great Bible education and a great wife out of my college career!
After college, I worked for Youth for Christ in upstate New York. Then I went to a conservative Presbyterian seminary in St Louis. here, I was strongly influenced by Francis Schaeffer, who has been called the apostle to the intellectuals. His style of non-traditional ministry appealed.
In 1971, after I finished seminary, we moved to Berkeley. I felt sense of calling. It was a crazy adventure!
That seems like a huge leap geographically and culturally. What did you do in Berkeley? We had an exciting, independent, para-church ministry to students who were part of the Jesus Freaks. We used our home as a place to minister to young men who were part of the counter-culture in ministry. Whoever came in was welcome. I’d make a presentation and then we would have discussions. It was delightful.
When our kids got to their teen years, Joanne and I started taking them to First Presbyterian in Berkeley, which had a strong youth program. We all attended there so our family could worship together.
Then in 1983, I was invited to be an interim pastor at First Pres. I was ready to make a change. So I became a candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church USA and served as an associate pastor at First Pres Berkeley from 1985 to 1992.
Then I was called to First Presbyterian, Alameda in 1992.
What are some of the highlights of your ministry in Alameda? Buildings have been a major emphasis for the last 10 years. After a major fundraising campaign, we re-dedicated the main building in 2004, one hundred years after the original dedication on Easter Sunday in 1904. In 2010, we tackled the newer building, which was erected in 1967. That was another major undertaking financially.
But the church is really the people and the ministries among the people. The buildings are just a house. I’m grateful for what we were able to do with the property but much more grateful for what’s happened with our people.
We’re a small congregation of 120 members — 150 counting the kids. We are blessed with active adults who have initiated many ministries, including mission trips such as the one to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. One member of the church started a ministry to the elderly. The Sunday School is run by volunteer leaders. My grandchildren attend. Vacation Bible School, which had lapsed for a few years, was started up again by a member who said we ought to have it here. [VBS is jointly run with and .]
I am grateful and proud.
What will you miss about being a pastor? The spiritual connection with the congregants. I will miss them.
What are your plans for the future? I’m going to sleep in! Seriously, I would like to continue teaching and serve as a guest preacher.
Last month, Joanne and I celebrated 50 years of marriage. We have three adult children and five grandchildren. We are blessed and spoiled because all live within a half hour drive of our home.
Pastor Jack will preach his last sermon at First Presbyterian on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 10:30 a.m. A farewell luncheon will be served at 1 p.m. following the service. Call to reserve seats for the lunch: 510-522-1477.