Buntain and his vision remembered Friday evening
With hymns, laughter and tears, more than 1,700 people celebrated the life of the Rev. Fulton Buntain on Friday night, who for 40 years was pastor of Life Center in Tacoma.
“My father loved this place, this community, this church,” his eldest daughter, Robyn Wilkerson, told the packed sanctuary at Life Center. “That was the passion of his life. Our responsibility is to live his legacy.”
Buntain died June 9 at Tacoma Lutheran Retirement Community at the age of 86.
He shepherded thousands with an upbeat message about overcoming life’s obstacles as pastor of Life Center from 1965–2005.
Buntain created one of the Northwest’s first megachurches and carried out his vision to care for people from cradle to grave.
Friday night’s memorial for Buntain was called, “A Night of Honor.”
Buntain’s three daughters, his best friend and his 14 grandchildren were among those who honored Buntain. They told stories of how he inspired them. Buntain’s widow, Lorraine Buntain, looked on from the front row.
“He met people where they were at,” grandson Chad Hardcastle said. “He was never above anybody else.”
“Tonight we celebrate him, but we miss him very, very much,” said another grandson, Rich Wilkerson Jr.
Several remembered their joy at being around the man they called “Pop.”
On the campus of Life Center, Buntain built a 750-student school, ages pre-school through 12th grade, and a senior housing complex.
Wilkerson said when he was a youth Buntain drove him to the school. He recalled how Buntain liked to drive those few miles while trying to avoid hitting any red lights, holding up traffic if necessary.
The Canadian-born Buntain retired as Life Center’s senior pastor at the age of 80 but retained the title of pastor emeritus.
The Rev. Dean Curry, who worked with Buntain for 20 years, succeeded him as pastor of Life Center.
Life Center remains one of Tacoma’s largest churches with Sunday worship attendance of about 4,000.
The church at 1717 S. Union Ave. is affiliated with the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination.
Buntain was known for his use of motivational sayings he called “chinlifters.”
Speakers on Friday repeated a number of those sayings, including, “Nobody gets the whole loaf. Enjoy the slice you get.’”
His son-in-law, the Rev. Tim Cox, said a doctor told him how Buntain transformed his marriage with perhaps his best-known pearl of wisdom: “The better you love, the better you live.”
In addition to shepherding his congregation, Buntain reached out to the community through special musical productions, such as the “Singing Christmas Tree.”
Buntain also was a founder of Mission of Mercy, which funded hospital care and feeding programs for children in India. Buntain’s sister-in-law, Huldah Buntain, founded and led those ministries with her late husband, Mark Buntain. She was among those who paid tribute to Fulton Buntain Friday night.
Peter Stallone arrived an hour early to get a seat at the church where he attended 20 years ago.
“He was a very influential figure in my life,” said Stallone, of University Place. “He’s very inspirational. He’s very uplifting.”
During the two-and-a-half-hour service, daughter Kathie Hardcastle recounted how she broke her dad’s 35mm camera while she was on a high school trip to Europe.
She wrote him telling him how sorry she was.
He wrote back with words of comfort.
“We don’t cry over lost and broken things,” Hardcastle recalled her father writing. “We only cry over lost and broken people and relationships.”