When I tell people that I grew up Roman Catholic, they always want to know how I came to be a Lutheran. I enjoy telling the story. As my girlfriend and I knew marriage was in our future, she said that she couldn’t make the leap to Catholicism and neither could I find myself going toward her Nazarene church. We would not get married and go to separate churches, so we decided to find our own church.
My good friend went to St. James Lutheran, the Missouri Synod church in Montague. The Sunday after Easter, 1979, I went with him. I immediately found it comfortable because the worship service, liturgical in form, was very similar to that of the Catholic mass. The next Sunday, I took Kim. She also found it a nice worship service. We decided to attend there awhile to give it a good feeling out.
We never did worship at another congregation.
More than the liturgy, we fell in love with St. James’ pastor, Walter Teske. A number of things endeared him to us. Many of those things directly influenced me to desire the ministry for myself.
I was especially taken by his sermons. Some would appreciate them for being short; they never were more than fifteen minutes. I liked that, too, but not for any “at least he’s not long-winded” reason. He stuck to one point, he explained it clearly and well, then he got out of the pulpit. This would be the way I preached. I kept in mind: never preach a sermon that I would not want to sit through, and always leave them wanting more.
It did not take long for us to know we wanted to join the church. We would take the class, one evening a week for a few months, where Pastor would methodically work through church doctrine. I would teach the same class dozens of times in my eighteen years in the parish. If I had a pizza for every time I made the following comment I would be set for the rest of the year:
Do my explanations sound like what the Bible is saying? If you think I am pushing or pulling a text to fit what Lutherans believe, you need to question me. It was this fact that impressed me when I sat in Pastor Teske’s class, that Lutheran doctrine works to say what Scripture says, and no more.
Walter Teske was a regular guy. In the early ‘80s, he was in his mid thirties—exactly a decade older than me—married, with three children. He was athletic. We played softball in a church league and he joined in, a pretty impressive glove at second base. During games, you always knew he was the pastor, yet he always felt like one of the guys.
His laugh was loud. He laughed regularly.
I was laid off from work a year after we first met. It was late winter when we just happened to learn that we both were joggers. We began running together. We talked a lot as we ran, and really got to know each other. My firstborn had just died ( https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/11481/ ) and he had held our hand through that so lovingly. His caring concern continued to come home to me.
In my mind, I still can see the exact place we were in our route when I said, “Pastor, I have a joke.” I proceeded to tell a joke which, by just about any standard, is clean and harmless. He did not laugh. I grew nervous.
After a few paces, he said, “Greggus”—I loved his nickname for me—“I think it’s okay to tell jokes about St. Peter and other Bible figures, but not our Lord. Jesus is our Savior. We should not make light of Him.” He spoke this so gently that I didn’t feel like a jerk. As I found myself agreeing, for the hundreds of jokes I’ve told since then my Lord has not been the punch line to any of them.
Soon after we joined the church, Pastor paid a visit to our house. He encouraged me to get involved in the business of the congregation. I took him up on it and immediately began attending meetings. I watched how he handled himself. When I became a pastor, I sought to emulate him.
Finally, the most important thing about Christianity was the most important thing about Pastor Teske. Whether it was in his sermons, or his Bible classes, or you name it, he always concluded with a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that for Christ’s sake God the Father loves us, forgives us, saves us, and provides us with eternal life.
Through Pastor’s faithful proclamation of the Savior, the Holy Spirit used the message of the Lord’s love to grow love in me. For a decade, my faith went from blossom to bloom to beautiful fruit. I found myself on my way to seminary. I worked to be a Walter Teske in every sphere of my ministry.
He had taken a call to another church a couple of years before I decided to enter the ministry. I phoned him to tell him. Excitedly, I blurted, “Pastor, I’m going to seminary! I’m going to be a pastor!” He proceeded to laugh his fool head off, a mixture of surprise and joy.
That’s Walter Teske: Regular guy. Minister of Lord Jesus. My brother in Christ and my friend.