‘We’re all on the same team’: St. Peter’s retiring pastor has been a force for unity among Christians

Despite leading one of Bartholomew County’s larger local churches, the Rev. Mark Teike may be known as well or better beyond St. Peter’s Lutheran Church as he is at one of the city’s oldest congregations.

Through the years, he has spoken regularly against racism alongside the local African American Pastors Alliance; highlighted the ministry of the nonprofit Clarity to those suffering from wounds of sexual trauma; talked of the huge importance of community outreach to the addicted; and praised the practical help of such local efforts as free car repair clinics for the poor via St. Peter’s partnering with Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center.

He has also been a noticeable voice speaking with compassion on behalf of the work of organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“People have definitely heard me say this before: I think that the Christian church is to be the agent of restoration, healing and reconciliation for society,” Teike said, sitting in his office decorated in part with younger St. Peter’s Lutheran School students’ artwork done as handmade thank-yous to him over the years. “You cannot do that while hiding in the corner or being in your closet.

“You need to get out there.”

The 64-year-old Illinois native has done that for the past 30 years as St. Peter’s senior pastor. He is retiring Aug. 31. The Rev. John Cordrey, learning the leadership post for several months now, has been named new senior pastor.

A farewell service and cookout gathering open to the public for Teike and wife Debbie is slated from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 20 at St. Peter’s, 719 Fifth St. in d0wntown Columbus. He chuckled when asked if would grow teary-eyed at such an event focused on recognition and appreciation.

“It’s possible,” he said, though he mentioned he has done so maybe only once during public ministry — at a funeral.

He very visibly has supported a range of interdenominational ministry efforts, including those with charismatic believers, a group that sometimes has struggled to count major mainline denominations among its supporters.

“If you’re a follower of Jesus, then we’re all on the same team,” he said.

His link with the African American Pastors Alliance, including being among a series of speakers at many of its events, surfaced simply. The fact that he was the keynote speaker at a Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast years ago helped — especially when he delivered a eye-opening and vulnerable address about his teen and youthful years marked by the same experience as many whites — racial jokes and the like, an experience he now abhors.

“The pastors alliance openly welcomed me,” he said. “They’ve become friends and encouragers. I’ve never tried to force myself in anywhere. But if I am invited, I will go.”

He acknowledged that, when he first arrived at St. Peter’s in October 1992, some very traditional Lutherans made little room for change, and hinted that his welcome could be short-lived. Others chastised him for not wearing a clerical collar, “which is just simply not me,” he told detractors.

Still others, such as Judy McKain, a former Columbus resident now living in Freetown, openly embraced his new approaches. She was person who originally suggested Teike to St. Peter’s search committee. She had seen him minister at his previous post as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa. McKain’s daughter Liz was a teacher in Trinity’s school, so McKain would attend Trinity’s services when she and now-late husband Jim Kiel came to visit.

“My goodness, he was so impressive in everything,” McKain said of Teike. “That included his preaching and even the warm way that he greeted people. My husband and I were so taken by him.”

Teike has been so taken and so grateful for the long-term support of St. Peter’s members — people he warmly sees as catching the vision that they minister as lay believers just as importantly as those ordained for pulpit ministry. He reserves special gratitude for wife Debbie.

“She has significantly shaped me and influenced me to become the person I am today — and sensitively shown me how to be more attentive to people’s needs,” he said.

St. Peter’s office worker Molly Humes used to wait on Teike and his wife when Humes worked at two different local restaurants — and was struck by both their kindness as diners and their generosity as tippers. She visited a St. Peter’s worship service about the same time and also began attending Teike’s Bible Investigation Class.

“I liked the fact that he (spiritually) fed us,” Humes said. “And I liked that he taught us what it meant to be a dearly loved and forgiven child of God.”

Teike eventually baptized Humes in the Jordan River in Israel when church members amd others made a trip to the Holy Land.

The senior pastor has long been a catalyst for unity among the various churches. After Sept. 11, for example, he reached out to pastors at more than a dozen local churches. Quickly, leaders who gathered a day later for a meeting at St. Peter’s organized with Mayor Fred Armstrong a communitywide worship service that attracted an estimated crowd of more than 1,000 people at Mill Race Park.

“In this community, it’s been great partnering not only with organizations, but with other churches,” he said.

The team player now will spend part of his retirement partnering with his two grandchildren in sheer fun. But he still will be connected to community ministry through issues such as helping to bring a new women’s recovery house to Columbus.

“We have to regularly ask: How do we as the church bring the presence of Christ to people who are struggling?” he said. “In some way, that includes all of us.”

About the Rev. Mark Teike

Age: Will turn 65 on Aug. 20

Family: Wife Debbie, daughters Erin (married to Jamie) and Shanthi, and son David.

Hometown: Decatur, Illinois.

Education: Master of divinity degree from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

Before St. Peter’s Lutheran: Served as pastor of Trinity Lutheran in Davenport, Iowa, from 1983 to 1992.

A favorite Scripture: Psalm 46

Free time: Bike riding, pickleball, spending time with family

Retirement plans: They include plenty of time with two grandchildren in Chicago and helping to bring a Dove Recovery House for Women to Columbus — “and whatever else God has in mind,” he said.