By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – He has spoken the Word throughout the American Southwest for 52 years, but now the Rev. James Buchanan is headed for a time of rest.
Buchanan, 75, has pastored churches for more than two-thirds of his life, but on May 25 he will preach his last sermon.
He has spent the last 25 years as a pastor in Central Texas – not counting a three-year hiatus between 10 years at First Assembly of God in Killeen and 12 years at Harker Heights' New Beginnings Assembly of God.
Buchanan has been credited with constructing and crafting New Beginnings from its conception to building the walls that surround its services.
Buchanan has been in this situation once before, when in 1993 he left a church in Killeen and doubted he would pastor again. However, in 1996, he was contacted about starting a new church in the growing community of Harker Heights.
"There was a need to establish a new church and I was invited to do that and so I did. I felt like it was something the Lord would have me to do," he said.
From no members to approximately 150 in 2008, New Beginnings' growth reflects that of Harker Heights.
"The area here has grown real fast," he said.
The church originally congregated in a school cafeteria. In 1999, the congregation purchased new land and a tri-level home. The church's members remodeled the home, tore down walls to expand meeting areas and decorated the home's bedrooms to serve as Sunday school classrooms. The home served as the church while they constructed a new building in Harker Heights along the Central Texas Expressway near Indian Trail.
The church's members traditionally do most of the construction and have almost completed a new, approximately 4,000-square-foot youth center, which will allow the church to separate younger and older children.
"It's part of meeting the needs of the community," Buchanan said. "It wasn't big enough, so we had to do something about it."
Also, Buchanan said fostering youth worship through activities and services is essential to a healthy church and to promote those values in the world.
"It's just important because of the growth and the children, pretty soon they are not children any longer and they are adults, so it's a primary focus," he said.
Buchanan said growing churches often need to do most of their own construction because waiting on money can take too long.
Even after new buildings and 150 members, Buchanan still hungers for a little more ears to hear the Word.
"The only thing we'd like is to have more growth. It's all about serving people. You do the best you can," he said.
Buchanan said at 75 he does not expect to build a new church again, which is something he did not expect when he first stopped pastoring in 1996.
"You just don't start doing things like that at 75. It's time. I don't give up and don't lay down or sleep. There'll be other things to do, but I don't plan to pastor another church."
Buchanan ended up in Central Texas after accepting an offer in Greenville before he moved to Killeen. Buchanan explains his journey to Central Texas the same way he explains what called him to the ministry after serving in the Air Force during the Korean War.
"I believe the hand of the Lord just directs our lives," he said.
The Air Force was an eye-opening experience for Buchanan in his early 20s. Buchanan said he had not been a particularly religious person before joining the Air Force.
"In the military, you become aware of things," he said. "You become conscious of different things in life that are very important. "
He left the Air Force at 22 and a year later attended Southern California Bible College. He learned from his father-in-law for the following six years, until he accepted pastorship of a church in King City, Calif.
Now 46 years later, Buchanan will step down from the pulpit at a congregation whose members find him popular for a variety of reasons.
"He visits the shut-ins. He visits the sick. He sat with me at 3 a.m. in the morning when my husband had a heart attack," Mary Ann Stone said. "He's come here and done a lot of building with the church. He's just a caring person."
Stone also said he buses in underprivileged children and provides them with backpacks of school supplies and presents at Christmas.
Though Stone said Buchanan is first and foremost a model pastor, his short sermons are also refreshing.
"He's not real long-winded. He gets to the point, gets his message over and then quits. I like that," she said.
Edna Roberts said Buchanan's array of knowledge of business practices and construction, along with his ability to counsel church members, makes him a unique find.
"You wouldn't want anyone better in constructing a church," Roberts said. "He'll be very difficult to replace."
New Beginnings has not decided on a replacement yet, Buchanan said as of April 10.
As May 25 looms, Buchanan insists retirement is not a big deal.
"It's just another stage in life," he said. Buchanan jokes about how he will spend the next stage in his life. He hopes to trade the pulpit for the pond.
"I laughingly say, 'I'm going fishing," he said.
However, Buchanan's not joking. After 50 years, he is ready for some days of rest to be split between grandchildren and fishing near his Belton Lake home.
Contact Victor O'Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7468