My predecessor here at Messiah died in Christ this morning. Pastor Gundlach (as we formal Fort Wayne types would call him) or Pastor Ted as his flock called him, served here at Messiah for 21 years, from 1978-1999. Prior to that, he served congregations in Oshkosh, Janesville, and briefly in Watertown. Prior to that, he was a Lutheran high school teacher for several years.
The first time I met Ted I think was when they stopped by our house (formerly their house) to drop off a bottle of wine and welcome us to Messiah and to Kenosha. He and Jane were kind and generous to the upstart pastor who (thought he) knew everything.
The next time I saw Ted was at my installation. I will never forget it. We were vesting in what was then the youth room, and I had just put on my chasuble. Red brocade, very liturgical, very very colorful. Ted walked in, took one look at me, and said, “Oh my.” Oh my, indeed.
They weren’t members of Messiah anymore, but Ted and his wife, Jane, lived in Racine not to far away. Jane still does. Over the last twelve years or so, I have increasingly come to respect Ted and his faithfulness as a pastor here at Messiah. Twenty-one years is a long time of service. I’m sure he did things I wouldn’t do. I’m sure I’ve done things he wouldn’t do. But he always, always, respected me as the pastor and offered nothing but support and encouragement along the way. He was and is a model for how an elder pastor can remain in a community and continue to be of service to the parish he loves, and others, even after retirement.
Among the many things that I learned from him over the years, probably the one that has been the most helpful to me has been one he didn’t even know he was doing. It was such a part of his nature. He didn’t get bent about titles and overwrought about terminology. When I first arrived at Messiah, it bugged me that people called him “Pastor Ted”. I thought that was disrespectful of the Office. But over the years, I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter what you’re called. The question is whether people will receive you as their pastor, and allow you to bring Christ’s mercy to them in their time of need. People letting you into their lives is a rare gift. Sometimes it’s more than you want to know. But it doesn’t matter much what they call you. That is for certain.
Some time ago Pastor Ted was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Parkinson’s has to be one of the most painful and just plain ugly diseases on earth. I’ve seen many with it, including my former Professor Kurt Marquart, and Dr. Ron Feuerhahn. Near the end, Ted was a shadow of his former self. It seemed like this big man was wasting away into nothing right in front of us. I can only imagine how hard the last six months have been for Ted’s family.
But through feeding tubes and tracheostomies, the “death rattle” in his lungs, lost hearing aids and long nights, through pain and what I can only describe as a lingering death, through it all, Ted confessed Christ and the resurrection of the dead. He brought comfort as much as He received it. And He always received it. I don’t know how many pastors were visiting him. I wouldn’t blame his family if they got tired of the pastor parade. But Ted was always kind, somehow, even when he was barely with us at all.
The last time I saw him, Wednesday, he was pretty much unresponsive from my observation. Maybe there was an eye blink or a little look. I’m not sure. We talked about some of the things that had happened in his lifetime, wept, prayed and sang. Our song for the week here at Christ Lutheran Academy was quite apropos. It’s what I sang to Pastor Ted, Jane, Sarah, and Daniel. It’s worth passing along here:
Evening and morning,Sunset and dawning, Wealth, peace, and gladness, Comfort in sadness:These are Thy works; all the glory be Thine! Times without number,Awake or in slumber, Thine eye observes us, From danger preserves us, Causing Thy mercy upon us to shine.
Father, O hear me,Pardon and spare me; Calm all my terrors, Blot out my errors That by Thine eyes they may no more be scanned. Order my goings,Direct all my doings; As it may please Thee, Retain or release me; All I commit to Thy fatherly hand.
Ills that still grieve me Soon are to leave me; Though billows tower, And winds gain power, After the storm the fair sun shows its face. Joys e’er increasing And peace never ceasing: These shall I treasure And share in full measure When in His mansions God grants me a place.
To God in heaven All praise be given! Come, let us offer And gladly proffer To the Creator the gifts He doth prize. He well receiveth A heart that believeth; Hymns that adore Him Are precious before Him And to His throne like sweet incense arise. (LSB 726, Paul Gerhardt)
There are other things that I’d like to write about concerning Ted, but they will wait for another time. Suffice it to say that he was a man who stood as a sinner before God, yet righteous for Jesus’ sake. Anything that God has used me for here at Messiah may be credited squarely on his shoulders for all of his hard work over so many years. I will miss him. I’m sure you will, too.
-Pastor Todd Peperkorn