A convert from the church of baseball
Michael Buffi, team chaplain for the PawSox, moved from dugout to pulpit
CUMBERLAND – When he was a kid, Michael Buffi would pray that God would serve him and help him become a great baseball player.
But after playing baseball for two years at Eckerd College, having a spiritual awakening the following year, and being named chaplain for the Pawtucket Red Sox nearly 30 years later, Buffi realized he had it backwards.
In his heart he felt the Lord saying to him, “‘Mike, I had plans for you in baseball all along, but not that I was going to serve you in baseball: you were going to serve me in baseball,’” Buffi said. “I wouldn’t change that for all the treasure in heaven. I get the privilege of bringing Jesus into the ballpark.”
This would not be the last time baseball had an impact on Buffi’s spiritual path. A fortuitous connection made when Baseball Chapel flew Buffi to Fort Myers for spring training earlier this year led to Cumberland Community Methodist Church’s selection of Buffi as its new pastor.
Today is the first official Sunday that Buffi, 59, is ministering. He is taking the role formerly held by Fred Jeffrey, who retired after 34 years with the church, selection committee member Sue Livesey said.
Another pastor then held the position for just a year. Livesey said he “did not work out for the church,” which was founded in 1887 and has about 45 members.
Buffi said of Jeffrey, “I pray and hope that I can follow in his footsteps and see this church grow again, and I want to bring the light of the Gospel. I want to bring hope, the truth of God’s word to the folks here, see them grow spiritually and reach out to this community with the love of Christ.”
Each week, Cumberland Community Methodist holds adult Sunday school at 8:45 a.m. and a service at 10 a.m., with Sunday school for kids held during the service. There is a Wednesday evening Bible study.
The church also provides financial support to missionaries, the food bank and the Good Neighbor Energy Fund, noted Brad Hunt, another member of the selection committee. Moving forward, he hopes to have more community outreach.
“Sometimes we have our little building and the things that go on,” Hunt said, “and really if you want to share God’s word, certainly we welcome people and hope to bring people in, but sometimes you gotta get beyond these four walls and get into the community.”
Cumberland Community Methodist hopes to draw in more young people, and Buffi believes that once people get to know members of the church and hear their message, they’ll be receptive.
“I think that people out there are looking for answers. It’s a crazy world that we live in,” he said. “The answers are not in any political election. The answer, we believe, is in Jesus Christ, and that as people see the chaos in the world, that they will look to the Lord for hope, because there’s very little of it in the world itself.”
But as a kid, Buffi – who was raised Catholic – was looking to the Lord for his baseball dreams.
He wanted to be a professional baseball player, and growing up in Johnston, he made All-State in 1975. One of his teachers encouraged him to go to Eckerd College in Florida to pursue a baseball career, and Buffi played there for two years before quitting the team.
In the following year came an unforgettable night, one of the most important of his life: Feb. 2, 1978.
Buffi had gotten to know Gary Lloyd, a transfer student from Bob Jones University. Lloyd was sick that night, so Buffi went to his room to see how he was doing.
Lloyd responded by asking, “How are you doing with your relationship with God?” Buffi was initially confused by the question, but he said Lloyd followed up by asking, “Have you ever come to a place where you fully surrendered your life to Jesus Christ?”
In that moment, Buffi felt that his eyes had been opened.
“That very night, I went back to my dorm room and started opening up the little Bible I had, and the words started jumping off the page at me,” he said. “Something changed in my life that night, and I understood the words that were in this book. I haven’t been able to put it down. That was about 38 years ago.”
Buffi was now “on fire for the Lord,” and so baseball took a backseat to his desire to serve. He moved back to Rhode Island and became involved with Cranston Christian Fellowship. Not long after, he mar- ried his wife, Kathy, who he met at church.
Church leaders encouraged Mike Buffi to go to graduate school for biblical studies, so he and Kathy moved to South Carolina, where he got a graduate certificate in biblical studies from Columbia International University.
Mike and Kathy Buffi adopted two girls from the Philippines. Erika Buffi is now 24 and attends Arizona Christian University, while 20-yearold Jonalyn Buffi is a student at Lesley University.
Fast forward to 2006, and local pastor Tim Zulker recommended Buffi to the chaplain of the Boston Red Sox to be the chaplain of the Pawtucket Red Sox. Buffi was friends with Zulker, and Zulker was friends with the Boston Red Sox chaplain, and this conversation happened without Buffi’s knowledge.
But when they asked if he would be interested in the position, it took two seconds for Buffi to say, “Absolutely!”
Since then, Buffi has ministered to more than 1,000 people at McCoy Stadium. The international ministry Baseball Chapel also asked Buffi to write devotionals for its website, and those go out to more than 900 Major League players, Minor League players and executives.
Baseball Chapel also flew Buffi to spring training earlier this year, and that’s where he met Ryan Reveley, chaplain for the Lowell Spinners. Reveley is the district superintendent for the Eastern District of the Primitive Methodist Church. This district covers 10 Methodist churches in New England, including Cumberland Community Methodist.
Buffi said to Reveley, “I feel like if the Lord opened up a door to me to be a pastor, I would really love to consider that.”
He and Kathy had been involved in many non-denominational churches over the years, and they figured that at this stage of their lives, it would be nice to settle in one community and pour their efforts into one congregation.
Reveley’s eyes opened wide, Buffi said, and Reveley said he was looking for a pastor in Cumberland.
Reveley asked Buffi how close he lives to Cumberland. Buffi and his wife live in Seekonk, just eight miles away.
Six members of Cumberland Community Methodist had formed a search committee that met weekly, and they ultimately received 11 resumes. Buffi preached at the church four times over the past six months, as the committee separated out candidates who they thought would be a good fit from those they didn’t.
“It came down to two candidates at the very end,” Livesey said, “and the church was more comfortable with Pastor Mike and what he had to offer.”
“You can’t help but know that God was in this all the way,” Hunt added.
While serving as pastor, Buffi will continue serving as chaplain for the PawSox, and working at his full-time job as a merchandiser for Frito-Lay.
But he understands his limitations and acknowledges former Pastor Fred Jeffrey’s recent prayer: watch over Mike and Kathy, and don’t let them get burnt out.
“I’m not Superman,” Buffi said. “I’m just a person that wants to be used of God, and God can do great things without me having to run around for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”