It was, by his own account, a delightful childhood. 'I could walk the tracks from Greensboro to Pennsburg and never get off. I squashed pennies on the track.' Six days a week in the holidays, he went fishing for catfish, sunfish and bass on the upper Perkiomen River and, next morning, fried his catch for breakfast. At Easter, he hunted for eggs which his mother had hidden in the garden, in summer there was swimming, in the winter tobogganing and sleigh-rides. Later, his father took him each Saturday to the races in their carriage, drawn by ‘two spanking black horses’ - though he was not allowed to bet. He had a new red velocipede and a dog called Nickie, and there seemed all the time in the world for everything. The memory of that childhood remained with him through a long life of travel. ‘There is nothing I like so much as Pennsylvania in June,’ he once said. ‘I love the red soil and the flowers, the loveliness of the Blue Mountains ... I'm glad I was surrounded by so much beauty.’

When Buchman was eight, his parents sent him to a private school a few blocks along the tracks. Perkiomen Seminary* was run by the Schwenkfelders, the most liberal of the German sects which had colonised the area. They believed that the Lutheran Reformation was too rigid and state-dominated and that a more personal and spiritual religion was needed, with less liturgy and ritual. To the study of the Bible, they added ‘the inner light which, they considered, came through the direct inspiration and rule of the Holy Spirit. Closer to the Quakers than to the fundamentalist sects like the Amish and Mennonites, they were in many ways ecumenists before their time. Whether their influence on Buchman was permanent is not known - in later years he could not list their beliefs - but in any event it was not a narrow one. Although his family were orthodox Lutherans, he sometimes walked six miles to the nearest Catholic church with a friend who was going to early Mass.

(* Now the centre of a large campus, drawing students from several countries.)

At the seminary he had a formal education in languages (including Latin and Greek), rhetoric, mathematics, science and music. In the classroom, he seems to have been eager and hard-working, though no more than an average pupil. Outside it, he was a sociable extrovert, ‘a rapidly growing boy of clear skin and eye and ruddy colour, often monopolised by the "fairer sex"’, according to a family friend.3 When thirteen, he founded a club for boys and girls which he called the PGB Society: the initials, he explained, were merely designed to provoke curiosity.4