Man on a mission
Saving souls is a Buskirk family tradition.
The retired Rev. James Buskirk, left, greets a congregant at Abiding Harvest United Methodist Church in Broken Arrow. Buskirk’s son, Chris, center, is the church’s head pastor.
At 82, the Rev. James Buskirk is officially retired, but the former senior minister at First United Methodist Church is helping the next generation of church leaders.
At his son Chris’ church, Abiding Harvest United Methodist Church in Broken Arrow, Buskirk helps mentor those considering ministry as a career. He describes the call to ministry as “a feeling of sunshine on your back.”
However, Buskirk, himself the son of a pastor, had no plans for a life in the ministry.
Growing up in rural Mississippi, he considered careers in medicine and the oil industry before a philosophy course at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, required him to write his beliefs down on a single sheet of paper.
With his credo in place, Buskirk quickly was on the same path as his father despite their different preaching styles.
His dad believed he literally heard the voice of God and would prepare for sermons by the seat of his pants. By contrast, young James meticulously studied and outlined his sermons.
In his early years behind the pulpit, Buskirk met a young woman named Nancy who played the piano at a church where he was preaching. She would end up becoming his wife of 63 years.
Living in Georgia, the young couple was happy, but life had its challenges on Buskirk’s annual salary of $2,000 a year.
“‘I don’t know how you kids are living on what we’re paying you,’” Buskirk recalls a church member telling him in the late 1950s.
The couple eventually moved back to Mississippi in the 1960s to be near their aging parents. The Buskirks became more financially stable and started a family.
However, a serious eye condition soon threatened Buskirk’s sight. He was told he might become blind within six months. He credits a combination of medicine and prayer for halting the condition and allowing him to continue his ministry.
Back in Georgia, Buskirk served from 1972-76 as the first professor of the Arthur J. Moore Chair of Evangelism at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Then he came to Tulsa at the behest of Oral Roberts.
Roberts was determined to establish a multi-denominational school of theology at ORU and was equally determined that Buskirk should be its leader.
“He wanted me to be the dean, and I had only been teaching for four years at Candler,” Buskirk recalls of his initial reluctance. “He called me every month to see what I was thinking.”
Roberts’ persistence paid off, and Buskirk moved to Tulsa. He stayed at ORU for eight years, but he says Roberts’ decision to use financial resources for the university’s medical school instead of a promised theological Ph.D. program prompted his decision to leave. At the same time, the bishop of FUMC Tulsa asked Buskirk to lead the church.
Buskirk and Roberts, who died in 2009, remained friends in the years that followed, when Buskirk served at FUMC.
Under his leadership, its mission program exceeded $250,000 yearly and attracted more than 200 laypeople to short-term missions each year, with more than 3,300 church volunteers participating in community ministries and the mission field each week.
When Buskirk joined the church in 1984, it had about 5,300 members. Membership reached 8,000-9,000 by the time he retired in 2000.
Seeing his son lead a congregation is “thrilling beyond belief,” Buskirk says. “He’s a superb preacher and it’s a thrill that’s new every Sunday morning.”
It appears the Buskirk name will be synonymous with the Lord’s work for many years to come.