You can always come home again
“I’m a passionate guy,” laughed Bob Rieke, the new pastor at Blaine’s United Church of Christ (UCC), happy to be at his new post and happier still that for the first time, Rieke’s entire family – his parents, his wife, their two children and their families were together to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Rieke, 59, is a Seattle native who graduated from Seattle Pacific University and then left for what would become over 35 years in the midwest. He began his training at a Lutheran seminary in St. Paul. He left school as he became deeply involved as a peace activist during the Vietnam era and eventually graduated from the Quaker-owned Earlham School of Religion in Indiana.
Rieke met and married his wife Sharon, a certified special education teacher from Ohio, and together they served four different parishes in Wisconsin and Indiana before returning to the west coast last month. Both daughter Rachel and son Nathan are working in the Bellingham area and his parents will be moving there shortly.
“It just feels great to be back home!” he thundered, rapping his fist on a desk that became his on November 1, when he began his duties. Another part of the appeal for Rieke seems to be the challenge in moving from a church of over 550 to one of just 79 members. It’s a taste that others in this unusual family have also cultivated.
His grandfather was a banker in Cashmere, Washington, who helped finance the growth of the apple industry in and around the Wenatchee Valley. His uncle Luverne attended the University of Washington law school and was named an assistant professor by the faculty the day he graduated. He retired almost 40 years later in a career shortened somewhat by service in the Army Air Force’s Flying Tigers in China during WW II.
His uncle Bill was a physician and chairman of the Iowa State University Medical School until being named President of Pacific Lutheran University.
Rieke’s father, now retired, was a Lutheran pastor in Burien whose first and only parish was Glendale Lutheran. He started it in a living room as a young pastor fresh out of seminary and by the time he retired it had grown into one of the larger churches in the Seattle area. “He was there over 40 years,” said Rieke, “but now as my folks get older it’s better if I’m closer than 1,600 miles. So we agreed to meet in the middle, here in Blaine,” he laughed.
Rieke’s new charge is the second oldest congregation in the county, exceeded in age only by St. Joachim’s Catholic Church on the Lummi Indian Reservation, founded and built in 1868. Six years later a stiff-necked abolitionist and minister born during the George Washington administration showed up on California Creek at the age of 80 to start a church among the pioneer families settling there. His name was William Stewart, and the bell that pioneer missionary Cushing Eels sent to him for the new church building erected in 1876 still rings each Sunday from the belfry of the congregation’s third building at 884 4th Street in Blaine.
The original church building sits in Ferndale’s Pioneer Park. For a time the Snow family used it as a private residence on California Creek. Loren Snow, who was born there in 1921, now lives across the street and a few houses north of the UCC Church. Rieke’s the 35th minister to occupy that pulpit.
Rieke calls himself a “serious liberal,” proud to be serving, he said, in a denomination that “really does have room for everyone.” Not all people who are living what some might call alternative life styles want to become “poster boys and girls for changing the rigidly conservative parts of the church,” he said, “because everyone needs a place to come and be comforted and renewed, too. And that needed space is here for everyone, including, I might add, people who see themselves as conservatives. It’s a come-as-you-are kind of place because that promotes dialogue and, we hope, understanding.”
Church member Carol Choulochas served on the search committee and said the process took about a year, including trial sermons by the top three candidates. “We developed a profile of the church, and got profiles from a number of pastors. We went to the Lummi Island church – neutral territory – to hear Bob deliver his sermon, and feel we got a really good match with him,” Choulochas said.
The Riekes will host an open house at their home at 835 Mitchell Street, Apartment A, on Sunday, December 5 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., and Riekes installation follows a week later on December 12 at 1:30 p.m.