I don’t believe there is anywhere in this 33,000 square foot building that Charlie Buss' hands did not touch over his six decades of being an active member of this parish. Like King Midas, his touch made everything more valuable. Unlike King Midas, this was not a curse but a blessing. Where would we be without his golden touch, without his ability to do so many things? Where would we be without his gifts and generosity?
Charlie was a skilled craftsman, especially in woodworking and carpentry. It was one of many traits he shared with Jesus.
His hands meticulously built the various stations in our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd children’s Christian formation atria. He was the only person in the parish who could install the brass marker plates on the columbarium niches without marring the frontal piece. Of course, he owned this teeny, tiny screw driver that was required to do so. It was but one of his many tools of the trade that allowed him to do such wonderful things. He built the elegant ambry where the reserved Sacrament and Holy Oils are kept in our chapel. For years, he created a unique and enchanting annual Christmas gift out of wood that he then made multiples of and shared with family and friends. Maybe the most well-know of those Christmas gifts is the nativity set that he created as a sort of Busses Rubik puzzle. I love putting that Nativity set out during the Christmas holidays every year. Putting it back after the holidays into the form, which is the outline of the manger; well not so much! It can be very frustrating trying to figure out how those pieces representing the Holy Family and the animals fit back in. I have often suspected this was a bit of a wry joke Charlie played on all of us. Aha, let’s see if they can put it back together again!
He also did mundane carpentry. Charlie fixed off-kilter doors, put shelving up, installed the processional cross holder, worked on the sanctuary parquet floor, and repaired loose kneelers on chapel chairs. He did a lot with great competence and better yet, with joy. Those gifted hands touched so many places and things in this church. He made them holy for us. Charlie holiness surrounds and embraces us.
Charlie was an inaugural member of the Wednesday morning Bible Study I started twelve years ago; initially we met at Panera at the Van Aken Plaza. When Panera moved to University Heights, we relocated to J. Pistone down the street. He was a faithful attendee. Like the mailmen of old, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night" kept Charlie from attending Bible Study. Only having an obligation to do some ad hoc legal work prevented him from attending; and even then, he would still come for a portion of the class, dressed in a suit and tie. Invariably, he was the first there. I beat him once, which shocked both of us! When he arrived, he would set the tables and chair, getting us ready for our group. He ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS read the NRSV version of the Gospel lesson we studied. That was his translation, and his claimed role.
Charlie really loved to read. He was also a lector. There was something very comforting listening to him. His strong, steady and gentle voice gave a reassuring measure to God’s word.
After reading the scripture on Wednesday mornings, he was often quiet during the group discussion. He certainly was attentive to the discussion, and occasionally he would offer some insight or idea. But mostly, he was quiet. He was in many ways an introvert, and someone who processed what he heard.
I sometimes thought Chalie’s quietness was the result of some of the provocative things I would say to stimulate thought and dialogue. He may have thought I was a heretic at times, but if he did, he never said so. He was too much of a gentlemen - and a gentle man - for that.
Of course, music was Charlie’s passion. He was a faithful choir member since he was a young boy. He loved the choir and the music of the Christian Church. It is said that he who sings, prays twice. Well, if that’s true, Charlie got a lot of prayer time under his belt. Whether it was Sunday morning worship, the high holy days, Evensong, Advent Lessons and Carols, Caroling at Shaker Gardens or the annual Choir Christmas party, Charlie was there singing his heart out to the glory of God.
Charlie was an avid supporter of our Concerts at the Crossroads series. He and Kerrin always attended our concerts.
He was always the first to arrive for choir warm-up on Sunday mornings. He would dress in his red cassock and cotta and then come and sit in the Good Shepherd room, talking to folks. In retrospect, I think that his early appearances on Sundays were really about him and his partner in crime, Nat Cooke, nabbing cookies from the coffee hour table, before it was actually coffee hour! Who was going to tell these two pillars of the church, that they couldn’t do that?!
Charlie was a long-time participant in the Boar’s Head Festival at Trinity Cathedral every Christmastide. He loved the pageantry, the drama, the festiveness and the costumes! He and Kerrin told me that Boar’s Head made their Christmas celebration complete every year. The event – like all else Charlie was involved in - will be much diminished without his talents and enthusiasm.
Charlie served on Vestry as parish treasurer, and was a valuable member of one of our two teller teams. These teams count and record all the Sunday and other service collections, plus any other income the church receives into our office. He was the main man for making the weekly deposits. This is not the most exciting or sexy work in the church, but like everything he took on, he did so faithfully. You could always count on Charlie. He took his volunteer roles as seriously as if they were a paid position.
More than anything else, I will remember Charlie as Mr. Pancake. You know what I mean, right? For years, he was the heart, soul and face of our annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. At some point, he got the handle Mr. Pancake. Who will forget those suppers with the aroma of freshly fried pancakes wafting through the church like incense? He always organized a team of great volunteers. Our kitchen would be abuzz Shrove Tuesday afternoon with chopping, mixing, frying, setting tables and, oh yes, the sacred task of carefully pouring out the authentic – no ersatz – maple syrup into creamers. It was quite a feast and a labor of love by all involved under the careful tutelage of Charlie. I am really going to miss Mr. Pancake.
I never heard Charlie complain. That’s an astounding thing to say about a lay person in the world of the church. I assure you, there is no dearth of complaining in this line of work. For six decades, he saw a lot happen in the life of this parish, which would lead to complaining and some egregious behavior from clergy and laity alike. He weathered those behaviors stoically, sure in his faith that God would get this parish to a better place.
Charlie also weathered the controversies that our beloved and recently deceased Byrdie Lee spoke about in her writings; intentional racial integration of this parish, Prayer Book revision, women’s ordination, acceptance of LGBTQ folks, the conflict between proponents of various liturgical styles. I don’t know what his stance was on those issues during those tumultuous times (I can make an accurate educated guess), but Charlie never wavered in his commitment to Christ Church and this faith community. That was first and foremost for him. He could have fled to other churches like so many others did. But he didn’t. He put Christ and Christ Church before his own personal needs or biases. That gets him a whole lot of jewels in his crown in heaven.
Charlie really strived to be a friend to all and to accept each and every person for who there where, and where they were on their journey. If that’s not following the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, I don’t know what is. It made him a pastor and an evangelist for the faith.
In our letter to the Romans passage today, St. Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us . . . I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Charlie Buss intimately knew that love of God in Christ Jesus. It was incarnated for him in this parish, in his ministries and in all the people of God he encountered over his years here. That love was worth the world to him, which is why he stayed through thick and thin. Like St. Paul, he knew there was absolutely nothing that would, or could separate him from that love of God he knew here. Such was his faith.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited him at the Hospice of the Western Reserve. It was a Sunday and a Gospel Choir was scheduled to sing in the common room that afternoon. Kerrin and Teri Lynn were there and they left the room to listen to the choir. I found myself alone with Charlie for the first time since he had decided to no longer receive treatment for his cancer.
Charlie was so beloved that his room often resembled a church convention with the number of people visiting. He also had some pretty fun Happy Hours in that room!
He knew he was near the end of his life. I took his hand and asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about, or any issues he was concerned about and wanted to discuss. He looked me straight in the eyes, squeezed my hand and said, no. Everything was just fine. So, I asked if we could pray together, which we did. I truly believe that as the end of this earthly journey approached that Charlie was at peace with his life and with all his relationships. That is a wonderful and all too rare state of grace for many on the last leg of life’s journey. I’m glad he had it.
“Jesus said, "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
We mourn the loss of our brother Charlie. He was a faithful companion to us in many lovely ways during our earthly journeys. His departing from us hurts. He will be missed in ways we have not even imagined yet. But we are comforted by the rich and deep experiences of love we had with him. We are comforted knowing that Charlie was a man who heard Jesus’ words and believed them. He also lived them, which of course is the whole point of the Gospel: To live the words of Jesus and build up God’s reign in our lives. Charlie did that. He was a good and faithful servant. Because of that, Charlie does not come under judgement, having lived a life worthy of the name Christian. He has passed from death into life, into that place where there is no longer any pain or sorrow, but only joy and life eternal. That is the promise we have been given in Jesus. That is the promise realized for Charlie. Which causes us to rejoice!
If heaven has any deferred maintenance, Charlie is probably fixing it right now; his trusty tools in hand. I’m sure that the heavenly hosts are pleased to have his voice added to their number. And I suspect there’s a six pack of Black and Tan at the heavenly banquet table just for Charlie. But look out, God, if Charlie gives you one of those wooden nativity sets. I hope you have better luck at putting that puzzle back together than the rest of us.