Heroes Among Us

As a writer, I’m always in search of heroes for my books. Last week we lost a true hero, and I’d like to share his memory with you.

On July 25th, we said our final goodbyes to Reverend John Edward Buteyn Jr., my minister of two dozen years. Although Pastor Jack had retired from the ministry years ago, over five hundred mourners flooded the sanctuary to pay their respects at his Celebration of Life service. Everyone had their own “Pastor Jack” story, of course, but the common thread woven throughout all the tributes was how Jack managed to make each and every member of his congregation feel as though they were the most important person on earth.

Another remark I heard was that with Pastor Jack, you didn’t have to put on airs. His son, Erik reminded us that his dad had his flaws, and never claimed to be perfect. Erik joked about Jack’s impatience with other drivers. One time on a heavily traveled road in Dallas, Pastor Jack grew so frustrated with another driver that he flipped him the bird. Erik was in the car and asked his dad if he realized the driver of the other vehicle had a “Celebrate Life” sticker, a sticker that most of our church members placed on their bumpers. Although some religious folks would be horrified at that admission, I found it refreshing. Perhaps that was why we could just be ourselves around Jack; he was, after all, one of us.

If you’re looking to become a millionaire, the ministry probably isn’t the career you’d choose. But in spite of the fact that Pastor Jack frequently golfed with affluent businessmen, I doubt he’d have traded places with any of them. While I’m certain many in his inner circle earned tenfold what Jack did, he was elated to be a part of Christian ministry, a career that centered around public service. His wife of fifty years, Linda, was a lifelong educator and Jack was incredibly proud of her passion for teaching in the Plano Independent School District. When the school district had a huge growth spurt, Jack stepped up to serve on the school board, making sure teachers’ voices were heard by the business community and other members of the school board. Teachers knew early on that Jack Buteyn was someone who had their backs.

Pastor Jack had a true passion for children, and the Children’s Sermon on Sunday mornings was something we all anticipated. He’d call the kids up, plop down on the steps and put on a crazy hat. The hats changed from Sunday to Sunday–sometimes it was a Doctor Seuss hat–other times it was a colorful hat with braids. He’d deliver a mini sermon on a level the kids understood, and then ask an open ended question. To be honest, I think sometimes he set us up because the children’s responses were utterly hilarious. He saw the potential in our young people and reveled in their achievements. When our son, Matt, was one of three high school students chosen to deliver a portion of the sermon on graduation Sunday, Jack took the kids into his office the week before and proofread their sermons, making sure the message they created was well organized and focused. He wanted them to look good, and indeed, they did.

But the thing I believe our church members appreciated the most was Pastor Jack’s ability to administer to them in their time of need. He always knew just what to say, and sometimes, what not to say. He probably put in tens of thousands of hours caring for his flock in hospital rooms and homes over the course of his thirty year ministry, hugging them, praying with them, consoling them. In a world filled with individuals craving attention, Jack quietly, with no fanfare, helped people who were suffering heal.

Most of us left Pastor Jack’s Celebration of Life service heartsick because we’d lost a dear friend who was absolutely irreplaceable. In this day of political upheaval, angry Facebook posts, and tweets laced with vulgarities, it’s important to focus on real heroes–the ones like Pastor Jack who enjoyed a lively debate with his parishioners, but always respected them and left their egos intact. That’s the mark of a true hero, and those are the types I’ll continue putting in my books. Thank you, Pastor Jack, for a life well lived. You will be missed.

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