This month, we sit down for coffee and a chat with the Rev. Carl Buffington of New Covenant Church in Winter Springs, Florida. Carl is a veteran pastor with a background as a traveling evangelist, and also contributes to Three Streams, The Mission’s blog.Pull up a chair and join us in learning about his model for Christian life and ministry and why he’s encouraged by a change in worship at his church this year.
What gets you up in the morning (energizes/motivates you)?
It’s seeing God move in lives that are changed, transformed—people becoming more and more like our Lord. Just recently we had a situation where someone could have taken the road of anger and hurt by a decision that was made and impacted them greatly. Instead, they chose to take the high road. In addition to an undeniable move of the Holy Spirit, I believe it was because of all of their work in formation— the fruit of their spiritual disciplines. It was like their training paid off, and it was an incredibly powerful witness. It still is. I love it when we can see God’s hand moving so obviously among us.
What is your daily devotional rhythm, or what does your own spiritual formation look like on a daily basis?
It begins with a time with my wife Barbara right after breakfast. We have done a variety of things over the years. We used to sit on the couch and look out the window at our kids waiting at the school bus stop and pray. More recently we have used The Paraclete Psalter, The Daily Office, God Calling, Jesus Calling, and Spirit Blessings—where you pray via the Holy Spirit to the individual’s spirit—and as special needs come up, we lift them up. It’s been a good way for us to begin with focus on things above and here below. One thing that has helped me in many ways over the years is breath prayers—e.g., the Jesus Prayer, “Jesus Christ son of God, have mercy on me,” or “As you wish Holy Spirit.” There are dozens that have circulated among followers through the ages. I tend to practice them driving to the office, while waiting at lights, driving by parishioners’ homes, sitting in traffic, heading to the hospitals and walking through the hospitals’ halls.
What is the most encouraging or memorable thing that happened in your life and ministry in the last year?
Probably the most encouraging and memorable thing was the change in our worship. Our former leader left and so did the musicians. They were good musicians, received a minor stipend, but were not all that involved in the parish. On a Friday before the Sunday after Easter, I asked a member of the singers if she would lead worship that Sunday. She allowed that she had never led worship before. She was, however, a talented and trained singer and student of music. She had led an a cappella group in college and taken them to Radio City Music Hall for a competition. Some months before, I had given her, along with most of the worship team, a CD by Kelanie Gloeckler from a conference in Jacksonville where she taught on worship using the prophetic song, intercessory singing and singing in the spirit. Our new worship leader gathered folks from the parish, formed a fantastic team, and as Bishop Greene said, she is one of the top two worship leaders he has ever heard. “It wasn’t building on the old,” as someone commented, “but something wholly new.” And indeed, I would add, holy new as well.
What person has most impacted your life, and why?
That’s easy: Rowan A. Greer. Rowan taught the Christian faith and “trained two generations of Yale historians and theologians in early church thought…” (from the book cover of Christian Hope and Christian Life, Raids on the Inarticulate).
Rowan was the curate at St. Paul’s in Fairfield, Connecticut, when I was a 9-year-old acolyte. My family immediately adopted him, as he was a bachelor. And so he joined us regularly for meals and for just about all holidays—at least all our holiday photos include him. He taught me to play tennis, how to play practical pranks on parishioners, and most of all how to be a priest and remain sane. Upon graduating from William & Mary, I called him and asked what seminary was about. He laughed. He had one of the best senses of humor I have known. Three years later he was chair of my examining chaplains for the Diocese of Connecticut, had read my written exams and would host my three days of orals. My first cure in Stratford, Connecticut, allowed the four of us who were ordained that year to meet with him monthly—so rich and fun were those days. I stayed in touch over the years and sought his counsel often. When I heard he had pancreatic cancer, I traveled to Connecticut to spend some time with him. Precious moments. Yale will celebrate his life and ministry next month. While the academic community considers him one of the top patristic scholars, I deeply miss a dear friend and model for Christian life and ministry.
What is one accomplishment in the past that you are proud of, and what is one thing that you would like to accomplish in the future?
As I look back on 40+ years of ordained ministry, I am most thankful for my wife Barbara who has raised three incredible kids who love the Lord—and I have been able to share in that. And now they are raising their own kids who love the Lord. I hope to somehow leave a legacy of love and joy for them—and I pray it spills into our extended family at New Covenant. As Henri Nouwen once said, “We must learn to see the limited expressions of human affection as refractions of the unlimited love of God,” and that is only learned and practiced in living in a community of faith.
In the future, I hope to be a little more like our Lord than I have been today or was yesterday. Annie Dillard once said that “the way we live our lives is the way we live our days.”