When the Rev. David Luecke walks out of St. John's Lutheran Church in Wilde Lake today, he'll close the door on nearly a quarter-century of pastoring in Columbia.
The 62-year-old minister, who is retiring, planned to give his farewell sermon today during an 8:30 a.m. service at the church in the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, where he's preached for 24 years.
In 1969, Columbia builder James Rouse invited the Chicago native to the area to help the Columbia Cooperative Ministry develop the interfaith centers. Each village center was allotted a certain amount of space for religious purposes in the new community.
At first, the interfaith centers were unpopular because conservatives didn't like the nontraditional church settings, Mr. Luecke said. Unlike traditional churches, the interfaith centers meant different denominations had to share space, he said. But through his guidance and relationship with his congregation, the church thrived. The membership has soared from 32 to 450.
"I've been blessed," Mr. Luecke said. "I thank God. He's been good to me."
While at St. John's, he's performed about 222 weddings and 444 baptisms -- the "special moments of my ministry," he said. He's performed only four funerals.
Mr. Luecke said he decided to retire because he's grown tired of the administrative side of pastoral work and wants to give the Rev. Joel Morgan, associate pastor, a chance to shine.
"I'm going to miss a lot of things here -- people, I'll miss the most. No question about it," Mr. Luecke said.
He wasn't sure what he would say in his goodbye sermon but did say, "I'm going to talk about my little moments on this stage of life."
Once retired, he plans to move to Waynesboro, Va., to help his ailing mother-in-law. In the winter, he hopes to fulfill his fantasy of sailing in the Bahamas on his 30-foot sailboat.
Church members and friends describe Mr. Luecke as a caring, loving, accepting, problem-solving, independent-thinking, God-fearing man.
"He's a servant of the congregation," said Trudy Reichle, 57, a member since the church was established. "He's a very gifted person with people."
He's also shown a flair for out-of-the-ordinary preaching.
Between 1973 and 1977, Mr. Luecke rode a Honda motorcycle -- sometimes while wearing his cleric clothes -- to preach, he said.
He has pastored for 37 years, including stints in North Carolina and Baltimore. While at St. John's, he has focused on radical grace -- an idea that there's nothing more or less people can do to make God love them more. It's a given that God loves us, he explained.
In 1956, he graduated from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He's written three books on marriage counseling and taught pastoral counseling at Loyola College. He has five children, and has been married to Marcia "Mardi" Luecke for 36 years,
Mr. Luecke said he surprisingly followed his father's footsteps into the ministry. When he was younger Mr. Luecke was turned off by the hypocrisy of the institutionalized church members he observed. "I repeated to myself, 'I will never be a minister,' " he recalled. But every door that opened led him to religion. "God didn't let me off the hook," he said.
Mr. Morgan, 32, Mr. Luecke's replacement, said "He's really been a mentor to me." He said Mr. Luecke taught him how to accept people for who they are. "He's always been available to people as they needed him, and that's a good gift," Mr. Morgan said.