In 1984, Lou invited Fred to come again and to read in Trinity’s sanctuary in Charlotte NC. Through his novels, his sermons, his prolific published works, Fred’s words had reached a large following. Pastors from pulpits around the world were quoting him (often mispronouncing his name), people from all over were trying to entice him off his mountain in Vermont. Come down, they wrote. Come let us hear your voice, the voice behind these words. For the rather reserved Fred Buechner, these pleas must have been hard. But come down he did to many who called. He came to Trinity because his friend asked him to. Rarely since the days Lou offered those Christmas Eve services has the Trinity Sanctuary been filled to overflowing. Trinity folk pulled out all the red carpets (or yellow brick roads) they could for Fred’s arrival. A reservation-only dinner in the Fellowship Hall was transformed into the Land of Oz because of Fred’s love of the books by L. Frank Baum. Bless his good heart, Fred endured it all for Lou’s sake, for our sakes, maybe for God’s sake. I think back upon it – I, dressed as Dorothy, my husband Dale as the Tin Man, my four-year-old son Daniel as Toto, others as Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion, and rainbows everywhere – and I wonder how he climbed those steps into the pulpit afterwards, having anything left to speak out over the people in the pews. On April 9, 1984, The Charlotte Observer reviewer Terry Mattingly wrote about Fred’s appearance in Charlotte, calling him a “shy-looking minister with a sleepy voice.” Goodness, this description of his voice makes me hope Fred did not ever read this review, mainly because the timbre of Fred Buechner’s voice sound so much like music that it, above almost all the voices I have ever heard, is the one I hear in my head when I am reading scripture or novels or essays. Lou Patrick said the same thing – that he heard Fred’s voice as he himself read poetry. Ah, well, we are all trying to word what can’t be easily worded, and often for Fred he is writing and speaking about the ineffable quality of God in the world. The reviewer did capture the high points of the message Fred brought that night: “People must keep the doors of their hearts open to the ‘extraordinary within the ordinary.’” Fred also mentioned his now-famous line about paying attention to our lives, one of the first quotes to pop up on any website about Fred Buechner. The message Fred brings about paying attention is that there are angels amongst us, and we are unaware they are there to bring messages…words God wants us to hear about ourselves and the world around us. This is good news, even in the darkest of times.
From “Deep Calls Unto Deep: Reflections on the intersecting lives and writings of Fred Buechner, Tony Abbott, and Louis Patrick”