The Rev. John A. Buerk, pastor of Parkside Lutheran Church for 28 years, died July 29, 2020, in his home in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village after a year-long battle with cancer. Born Dec. 27, 1932, he was 87.
In a tribute in the program for his retirement, former Buffalo News reporter Irene Liguori, a parishioner at Parkside Lutheran, wrote that Buerk “was an intellectual, scholarly man who had the knack of translating his considerable knowledge into practical, down-to-earth messages from the pulpit.” Observing that he was devoted to his parishioners in all aspects of life, Liguori went on to note that “he held babies, baptized them and married them off, and had been around long enough to watch the cycle repeat itself.”
Born in Troy, John Arthur Buerk was a 1955 graduate of Union College in Schenectady. After receiving his Master of Divinity degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he was ordained in 1959. He later did post-graduate work at Heidelberg University in Germany.
Buerk began his ministry as assistant pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Albany from 1959 to 1961, then became Protestant chaplain at the University at Buffalo in 1962. In 1968, he was named to an administrative post at UB, which he held for eight years, and oversaw the orientation program for incoming students. He served as an adjunct assistant professor in the philosophy department and was an adjunct professor in the religious studies faculty until 1990. He also was an adjunct professor in the religion department at Daemen College.
He became pastor of Parkside Lutheran Church in 1972 and served until 2000. In retirement, Buerk was pastor emeritus at Parkside Lutheran Church and pastor-in-residence and ecumenical officer at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. In 2018, he received The Rev. Dr. Ralph W. Loew Award for Human Service.
He served on numerous boards, including the SUNY Buffalo Community Advisory Council, Buffalo Area Metropolitan Ministries, the WBFO Programming Advisory Committee, the Mayor’s Citizens’ Funding Committee, Planned Parenthood and the Oncological Foundation. He was a past president of the board at the Community Music School of Buffalo, headed the board of the Council for International Visitors and was past president of the UB Faculty Club.
As ecumenical officer for the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, he regularly attended the annual meetings of the National Workshop for Christian Unity.
He also taught and spent summers at Chautauqua Institution, where he enjoyed seasons in conversation with visitors on his porch. He regularly had letters published in The Buffalo News and The New York Times.
His passions included music, art and poetry. He also was fond of single malt Scotch whisky and butter pecan ice cream.
He and his wife, the former Jill Raisen, a classically trained soprano and a teacher at Community Music School, were married in 1973. Survivors also include a daughter, Linda Howell; two sons, Dietrich and Christian; and six grandchildren.
Services will be private. A public memorial will be held at a later date.