When the longtime pastor who founded a black church in Fort Worth died in August, members searched for a new leader and found one notable for more than just his sermons.
Rev. Robert Rogers led Harvey Avenue Baptist Church for 53 years.
“When God gets ready to take you home, you got to go,” said 77-year-old church secretary Shirley Mayes, who worked with Rogers for a half-century. “So we understand his death, but we miss him.”
Following Rogers’ death, deacons asked pastor Jack Teeler to preach for one Sunday service. And they liked his style.
Teeler, who is white, was assistant pastor at West Mount Moriah Church in Como.
“I’ve known him 10 years,” Rev. Wendell Campbell said. “He is the epitome of faithfulness.”
Teeler said he enjoyed preaching with Campbell and wasn’t looking to leave.
“I was happy,” Teeler said. “I was doing what I needed to do. I was his (Campbell’s) assistant.”
But across town, at Harvey Avenue, members said they fell in love with 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.”
But still, a white pastor in a black church?
“Who ever heard of it?” Teeler said. “I didn’t even apply for the job. They called me. They said God put it in their heart.”
At his inauguration, members of other churches from across the city packed Harvey Avenue to welcome him.
“I thank God for this moment in time that is unique and different,” Teeler said. “It’s certainly different for me.”
Teeler agreed being a white pastor in a black church is unique but sees it as a lesson in a society sometimes divided along racial lines.
“I believe here I’m a person, they’re a person,” Teeler said. “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, owner of three Eyecrafters stores, grew up in a mostly white church.
He married an black woman, Brenda Teeler, 27 years ago. A few years later, he visited a black friend’s church.
“The way an African-American preaches is harmonious,” he said. “It has a different sound to it than being boring. ‘God will do this, God will…’ They have a good way of saying, ‘The Lord will be with you, no matter what you’re going through.'”
Teeler started preaching himself but he never saw himself doing it full time, let alone in a church with mostly black members.
“Church is the most segregated place in the world today,” he said.
Teeler said he is honored by the appointment and looks forward to embracing his new position.
“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.”