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Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian minister and author, dies at 96

Frederick Buechner
Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, theologian and author, giving a sermon on local TV in Chicago, Illinois in 1991. |

Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, theologian, speaker and prolific author of both fiction and nonfiction books, has died at the age of 96.

Buechner’s passing was announced on his official Facebook page Monday, where it was said they broke the news “with great sadness” but also with “greater appreciation for his well-lived life.”

Born in New York City in 1926, Buechner served in the United States Army near the end of World War II, then went on to earn college degrees from Princeton University and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

In 1956, he married Judith Friedrike Merck, with the couple having three children, and would later be ordained in the United Presbyterian Church in 1958.

A prolific writer, over the years Buechner would author nearly 40 books, including novels, theological works, as well as a collection of short stories.

Honors for his work include the O. Henry Award, the Rosenthal Award, the Christianity and Literature Belles Lettres Prize, and being recognized by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

He was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He was also awarded eight honorary degrees from various academic institutions, including Yale University and the Virginia Theological Seminary.

“When I started out writing novels, my greatest difficulty was always in finding a plot,” he said in a 1996 interview, as quoted by Encyclopedia.com.

“Since then I have come to believe that there is only one plot. It has to do with the way life or reality or God … seeks to turn us into human beings, to make us whole, to make us Christs, to ‘save’ us … In my fiction and non-fiction alike, this is what everything I have written is about.”

In 2006, Washington National Cathedral held an event celebrating Buechner, in which a panel of clergy spoke about how Buechner had inspired their work.

One of the speakers at the 2006 event was the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, a former student of Buechner when she was enrolled at Yale Divinity School and a notable author in her own right.

“I’ve learned that language is revelatory. That it can ignite hearts, move mountains and change lives,” said Taylor at the time, recalling that Buechner’s voice was “restraint but insistent; as if he had something important to say but would not yell.”

“Dr. Buechner, you rearranged Yale,” she added.

Another panelist, the Rev. Canon Eugene Taylor Sutton, said Buechner's book, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, heavily influenced his life.

“I have not been the same preacher since I read it, nor the same Christian,” said Sutton in 2006, noting that Buechner has become a “household name to aspiring preachers across the nation.”

Jim Denison, a theologian and head of the Dallas, Texas-based Denison Ministries, wrote in a 2018 op-ed piece published by The Christian Post that Buechner was “one of my all-time favorite writers.”

“His latest book, The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look and Listen to Life has been especially profound for me,” wrote Denison at the time.

“Buechner offers this practical tip: see other people as family. This helps us choose against anger, revenge, lust, or other destructive emotions that mar our ability to discern the image of God in them.”

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