In the 1930s, Carl Sandburg was finishing his four-volume work entitled Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years. Sandburg called his 75th and final chapter "A Tree is Best Measured When It's Down," a line he borrowed from an old woodsman’s proverb. Sandburg chose that line because he was writing of the events immediately following Lincoln’s assassination, and because he felt that until a life is “down” we are unable to accurately measure the length of its significance, the breadth of its impact, and the depth of its character.
About the same time Sandburg was writing about Lincoln, LeRoy Buller was growing up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, playing on the banks of the Calcasieu River. I refuse to wait until he’s “down”, so for the next few moments, I’ll attempt to chronicle some of the significance of his life as he leaves his role as our Pastor and moves on to be our Bishop.
We’ve all heard the stories from his youth. He’s shared them with us so we can know that his life was really not much different from our lives. He loved his father – even though Papa Buller said he’d never make a preacher. He loved his mother – except perhaps when she dished out the often-needed punishment. He developed a taste for gumbo, rice and gravy, and a bowl of bread and milk. He counted on his older brother to help him when the bullies were around, he drove a car with a loud muffler, he had a few girlfriends, and he struggled with making a commitment to God. And, of course, he was greeted with challenges though he sought victory. When he told his pastor he wanted to be a preacher, he was told to clean the rest rooms.
He is familiar with the joy and love and stars – and the bumps and bruises and scars – of being a young person, trying to live for God.
As we all know, Brother Buller attended the Apostolic Bible Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota – far away from his southern home. Now, times were lean, and the $20 a week didn’t go too far after tithes, room and board. But there at ABI, he found a girl who came from his neck of the woods.
We’ve not heard many stories about the young life of Evelyn Johnson – maybe she prefers it that way! But we do know that there was a time when she was very ill, and there in the hospital they were ready to pronounce that she had died. But God wasn’t ready for her to leave this place. He had a plan for her in the ministry, and He miraculously healed her.
So there at ABI, on that occasional legal date, although thriftiness had become a way of life for Bro. Buller, he was really, truly, sincerely being romantic when he bought that one soda with two straws – just like Archie in the comic books. She thought he was cheap, but he made up for it and they eventually married on July 23 in 1956.
Learning to live with little through those early years taught him to be very careful with the Lord’s money – to be a faithful steward – a trait he has retained to this day.
Somehow, they (or should I say “he”) managed to buy a boat before graduating from ABI in 1957. Does that surprise you? Entering full-time evangelistic work, he pulled that boat to the first few revivals they preached in Indiana. The times were still a bit lean, and wisdom was growing, so they parted company with the boat.
So their lives for the Lord continued. Kimberly was born. It wasn’t long before the duet, backed up my Sister Buller’s accordion, became a trio.
Life on the road as evangelists was replaced with a new learning experience as they spent 4 years in Massillon as Assistant and Youth Pastor for Bro. Murray.
A growing relationship began with Bro. Curts, the founding pastor of our First Apostolic Church. Brother and Sister Buller preached a revival for this church each August after camp for about 5 years. And through this time, Sister Buller home schooled Kimberly for about 3 1⁄2 years.
It was in August of 1968 after Camp Meeting, when Brother Curts spoke to Brother Buller and said, “It’s time to come.” It became a difficult time for the church as Brother Buller was installed, and even more challenging when Brother Curts was struck by a vehicle on Mothers Day of 1969. He died the following Friday and Brother Buller became the second pastor of the First Apostolic Church – the mantle he has now worn for nearly 34 years.
They lived for a year in their Airstream trailer in a trailer park up on Daly Road in College Hill. Their poodle, Jean Pierre saved their life one night. A pillow had fallen onto a heater and began to burn. He sensed it and went nuts until they awoke.
From there they moved into a 2-bedroom apartment on Lippleman Road in Princeton. Kim had been used to the small quarters of the trailer, so she often crawled into their room and slept at their feet.
Finally, they bought a house and moved to St. Bernard in 1972, less than a mile from the church building. Kim attended high school there in St. Bernard, and the church moved on. The congregation solidified, and this work of the Lord grew.
Bro. Nathaniel Urshan once commented that the church in Cincinnati would have dissolved, but Bro. Buller salvaged it. When Bro. George Thompson preached of it, he said “out of the ashes, Bro. Buller has brought a strong church.”
But there was something that wasn’t quite right. Some say there were too many painful old memories, some thought the building was just too big, and some thought he was just growing tired of the old furnace that never really worked quite right, but Bro. Buller had a vision for a real church building for the congregation; for something that had not been a saloon, or a union hall or a theatre. His vision was for new church building dedicated to God from the ground up.
He managed to sell the old Vine Street building to another church, and he made arrangements to use it for our church services on Sunday afternoon (in between their services) while we started on the new church building here in Kenwood.
From the world’s perspective, the timing could not have been worse. Along with the usual cost overruns that occur with a project of this size, the tragedy of the fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club increased the burden to comply with stricter fire codes, and mortgage interest rates were the highest in history. It was not an easy road, but rather one that took adaptability, ingenuity, perseverance – and a constant and deepening reliance on the hand of God.
To help alleviate the financial burden and keep the building project going, Brother and Sister Buller sold their house in St. Bernard and moved back into an apartment not far from here. Sister Buller went to work at Nutone for 18 months. Brother Buller lent a hand with the building effort, and inspired numerous saints to volunteer their time and effort to the project.
As soon as we could, we started holding our services in the adjoining house. Finally, the building reached the point where we could move into this sanctuary, and we held our first service in here on June 8, 1981. We didn’t have the pews yet – just those uncomfortable metal chairs, but we were sitting in the realization of Brother Buller’s vision.
The dedication services were held on November 18, 1981 with many guests in attendance, such as Brother Newstrand, Bro George Thompson, Brother Roshon, Brother Fred Kinszie, Brother Al Friend, and Brother Hugh Rose. A poem called The Gift was printed in the program for that day.
God gave a gift, t’was a vision to me
Of a new house of worship, “yes, it would be”,
Born of a burden for souls to be free
A bride perfected for the Lord to see
A labor of love for the work, the call,
Saints and pastor, one and all,
One soul will be worth every effort we’ve made,
Jesus, we give this gift back to you today.
And so, true to the burden and vision, Bob Leech was the first to be baptized in this building’s baptistery.
Through the years that followed, by the faithfulness of this congregation and the faithfulness of the pastor to his stewardship, the mortgage has been paid off, and this “tabernacle in the suburbs” is completely debt-free with a comfortable reserve – led by the wisdom of a pastor with a vision.
Let me speak more of wisdom as Pastor Buller has taught us. He regularly demonstrated a wise patience, knowing when to take a problem and “put it on the shelf” until it’s time for the solution. He knew when correction was needed, even though it always brought him personal pain to administer it. He knew when encouragement was needed, so he remembered – to always hug the little ones, to dedicate the babies (but really the parents), to recognize birthdays and anniversaries every Sunday, to visit those in the hospital, and even to fly home from vacation to officiate at a funeral.
He knew reading through the Bible is so beneficial, and he encouraged us to do that each year. He knew to seek out the prayers of others, like the Pastor’s Prayer Force he formed to “stand guard” every time he or a visiting minister preached. He knew we must give our best to God by wearing our best when we serve on this platform. He knew that when the congregation was falling asleep, it was time to get out a big stick and poke the preacher. He knew he had to sing less so that he could save his voice to preach more effectively. He knew that moving the mid-week service from Wednesday to Tuesday night from time-to-time gave us the opportunity to hear the burden of a missionary who was already booked for the “usual” service night. He knew that we’d benefit, and that our prayers and support would follow yet another of God’s messengers.
He knew of the need to hold on – to continually renew – to pray through – to be ready to meet our God.
And he knew of the need to let go as the years of service began to limit him – to hand the reins to another man of God.
We also know Pastor Buller for his ability to have fun, to stop and relax when it’s needed, and to share his fun toys with others. There’s nobody in this church, and likely no minister in this organization, that can ice skate as well as he can. Many have shared the enjoyment of riding in his boat, or being pulled behind it in the tube or on skis. Some have ridden on the back of his Harley or was that a Silver Wing… all right, it’s just a scooter – some have been inside the GMC Motor Coach he rebuilt, a few have been inside their new mansion-of-a-motor-home, and I’m sure he’ll offer rides to many in that new set of wheels he’ll tow behind it. Maybe when he heads south for a while, he’ll update that scooter so he can ride with Ricky Treece, Bro. Upton, Jim Bruce (his brother-in-law) and LB Buller his brother.
Along with their role in our local congregation, Brother and Sister Buller are highly respected in the UPC organization. They have served as campground host and hostess. He has served for many years as the Evangelist Coordinator and as Section 6 Presbyter for the past 6 years. They are known for their peacemaker role in the district.
They are loved by missionaries for being one of the very few who will alter the mid-week service date to allow them to minister an additional day, and he expanded the church building to include a multi-purpose room, in that his office converts to a small apartment – the Evangelist Quarters – to ease the burden on the visiting ministry.
The First Apostolic Church has been very fruitful for the work of the Lord. Many preachers and ministries have grown out of this congregation.
Under the Buller’s guidance we have sponsored numerous Ladies Meetings, Prayer Conferences and Sunday School conferences. Our children’s activities have grown to include the Puppet Ministry, prayer training and specially organized services specifically targeted to feed the young. This has produced the fruit of children receiving the Holy Ghost at 6 and 7 years of age.
In recent years we have repeatedly received national recognition for our support of Mothers Memorial – consistently in the top 10 in the nation – a remarkable contribution for a church of this size.
But, of course, their aim was not to be a big church in the city in terms of numbers, but big in serving the Lord, big in unity – for the church and for the section.
They are both quite distinguished, full of class – always a lady and a gentleman – she in just the right outfit – he in his suit with the tie that meets her approval – hair (a small issue for him) right in place, and their home is beautiful.
Are they perfect? Well, no. In that regard they’re just like me and you. But I remember a man named David that God spent a lot of time talking about in the Bible. He had rather humble beginnings that God converted into a vision for His people. Along the way of realizing that vision, David had some failings that have been recorded for everyone to see and critique. But the Bible still calls David a “man after God’s own heart.” God knows we cannot achieve perfection in these bodies, but he sets the goals for us. The Bullers have earnestly sought to achieve those goals through their ministry as Pastor of this congregation for 34 years, and as David, they are truly “after God’s own heart.”
Back in the spring of 1972, a longhaired bearded college kid entered the sanctuary in the old church down on Vine Street. With a face full of tears of repentance, I was baptized in Jesus’ name, and received His precious Holy Spirit into my being. Since that time, despite my continued failings, Pastor and Sister Buller have clung to my soul with a gentle tenacity that has kept me on the road to glory. It is that kind of connection that drew many of us to pray for him after his heart attack nearly 4 ago. As I stood with Sister Buller, touched his dying body in that operating room, and heard the doctors give us fatal news, this church remained faithful in prayer. God also remained faithful and miraculously returned our Brother Buller to us.
For years to come, when you hear the words, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”, “Never man spake like this man!”, “The time of the singing of the birds has come”, or “the importance of scars” – your mind will recall those favorite messages with thanksgiving, for the Bullers have been our preacher and teachers. When you hear “Chilly Jordan”, or an accordion or harmonica or an organ playing softly during altar call, you will rehearse those favorite sounds through your mind with joy, for the Bullers built the foundation of our music ministry. When you show your children and grandchildren your wedding photographs and take them to the graveside of your loved ones, you will recall the guiding and comforting voices offered during times of joy and sadness, for the Bullers carried us through all of these.
Pastor and Sister Buller, we honor and welcome you now as Bishop of the First Apostolic Church.