SAN ANTONIO – A man who is widely considered to be San Antonio’s pastor died overnight from complications following a debilitating stroke in August. Rev. Buckner Fanning has been an iconic leader who brought together many denominations in his work bringing the word of God to all.
Many remember him through his 30-second television commercials that were seen worldwide about by about a million people per week. His son Mike Fanning says they were usually recorded with no script or special effects, and usually in one try.
"It wasn't a show. He believed deeply. He loved deeply. He played deeply. He respected others deeply, and that's the kind of person you want to be, isn't it?" said his son, who has continued the tradition of preaching at his Fellowship of San Antonio Church north of 1604.
It started early for the Reverend, attending Baylor University in Waco where he participated in revivals. From there he continued his education, and was already an evangelical rock star when he came to San Antonio’s Trinity Baptist Church in 1959. He was even featured in Newsweek magazine.
Once in the city, he broke through barriers that no one had attempted, preaching a message of love to all denominations and their leaders as well. His son reminisces about meetings with the Archbishop of San Antonio’s Catholic Church, and leading rabbis where they would discuss opening their mission of spreading the word and helping their community.
In 1998, Fanning founded the Buckner Fanning Christian School as an inter-denominational Christian school for children K-8th grade.
"A Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest and a Baptist preacher. They would get together every month and they fostered this ecumenical spirit in San Antonio that is still marvel. It was incredible," said Mike Fanning.
That sort of open arms approach also earned him some criticism from conservative Baptists. Other leaders call him a revolutionary figure in the world of religion.
"He really had a compassion for people who didn't know Christ and he wasn't afraid to be unconventional. I'm sure he took a lot of criticism for it, but I always took him to be a guy who rolled through it and just had the vision which was for more people coming to know Christ,” said admirer and fellow pastor Sean Azzaro of the River City Community Church.
In the end, the 89-year-old retired preacher was suffering greatly in the aftermath of his second stroke. His family says that they had been praying that his body be released to God, so his death overnight was an answer to their prayers. They plan to hold a large memorial at the end of the month for the city, hoping to somehow make it as meaningful as it would have been had Buckner Fanning himself presided.
He is survived by his wife, Martha, their three children and five grandchildren.