“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” That’s the way Psalm 133 reads in the Bible’s Old Testament, and in Ft Worth, Texas, members of the Harvey Avenue Baptist Church are finding it to be true.
When their beloved founding pastor of 53 years passed away in August, the predominantly black church needed a new pastor. The deacons invited Pastor Jack Teeler, a white, part-time minister who was an assistant pastor at another church, to preach one Sunday as they looked for the right person to permanently fill their pulpit, according to KXAS-TV.
Teeler says he was content at his church where he was the assistant to Rev. Wendell Campbell and didn’t expect to leave.
“I was happy,” Teeler said. “I was doing what I needed to do. I was his (Campbell’s) assistant.”
Campbell describes Teeler as “the epitome of faithfulness.”
But as Teeler preached that Sunday at the Harvey Avenue church, something new began to happen. Teeler and what he thought was his temporary audience made a surprising, deep connection. The congregation liked his style, and members say they fell in love with him.
Shirley Mayes, the church’s secretary who worked with the previous pastor for half a century, can’t say enough about Teeler.
“Pastor Teeler? I have to pack a sack lunch for you all,” Mayes said. “I could tell you so much about him. He’s a great, great, loving, caring man.”
And that’s how Harvey Avenue Baptist Church got a new pastor. A white pastor, breaking through in what has been described as the most segregated hour in America, Sunday morning church services. No one was more surprised or pleased than Teeler. When he was inaugurated into his new position, members from neighboring churches packed Harvey Avenue to welcome him.
“Whoever heard of it?” Teeler said. “I didn’t even apply for the job. They called me. They said God put it in their heart.”
He says it is a unique experience, but he’s glad to be part of something so unifying in a society that is so often broken across racial lines.
“I believe here I’m a person, they’re a person,” Teeler explained. “I don’t believe they look at the color of the skin. If they had any prejudice in their mind or heart at all, I do not believe they would have called a white man here to preach.”
Teeler is embracing his new calling and says he is honored to be part of his new congregation.
“Our motto here is no matter what color your skin, we are all kin,” he said chuckling. “We put the labels on them. We call it the white church, the black church, the Hispanic church. We call it that. In the Bible it’s only called church.”
The rest of Psalm 133 tells what happens when people do come together in unity, and it’s something the folks at Harvey Avenue Baptist are expecting:
“For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”
Written by: Deborah Bunting