By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN “I’m a Midwestern boy who has been all over, and am very happy to come back home,” said Pastor Mark Reiff, who took over duties as pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Howard Lake July 1.
Reiff was officially installed as pastor at St. John’s Lutheran July 14, and currently has a one-year contract as interim pastor. However, he will stay at the church for as long as he is needed, he noted.
“I was on the west coast for 32 years, but it was time to come back because these are my roots,” he said. “When I’m done here, I will be retiring.”
When he came upon St. John’s Lutheran, he was struck by its mission support and profound commitment to mission work. For instance, the church has pledged 25 percent of its income to mission work both locally and globally, Reiff said.
“That is a very impressive statistic that really piqued my interest,” Reiff said, noting they are giving vision to the faith in a visceral way by giving one out of every four dollars to people in need.
Reiff is also impressed with the youth work being done at St. John’s Lutheran. Each Wednesday evening, 40 to 50 racially, culturally, and religiously diverse children gather at the church to share fellowship, activities, and a meal.
“That’s what church needs to be about,” Reiff said about the diversity of the youth group and the fellowship it provides.
The youth minister does a “wonderful” job teaching the children, connecting with them, and instilling values in them, Reiff noted.
Reiff comes from a long line of pastors. His grandfather came from an outer mission in Germany, and was supposed to be assigned to northern Africa.
However, he was re-assigned to come to the US, and ended up in Wisconsin, where he gave his services in the German language.
Reiff’s father was also a pastor who spoke German and would sometimes give services in German.
Reiff’s brothers followed in the family tradition and also became pastors.
Reiff grew up on the east side of St. Paul, where he graduated from high school, went to college, and seminary.
Following ordination, he served a church in Iowa for two years, before going to New York City and Manhattan.
He then went to the west coast, serving in San Francisco and, his most recent assignment, Seattle.
Throughout his life, Reiff has done extensive traveling, and has been all over Europe, to Australia and New Zealand on several occasions, and has made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land five times.
He noted the trips to the Holy Land have been life-changing, and really help one understand the context of the life of Christ.
“I think every Christian in their life should be obliged to go to the Holy Land,” Reiff said. “I don’t think you can really understand the scripture unless you go to the Holy Land.”
He noted that each time he goes, he comes across something new that is unexpected and remarkable and changes his understanding of Jesus Christ.
“The archaeology of the Middle East is so incredible, it’s mind-boggling what you can learn,” Reiff said.
He explained that a better understanding of the geography, archeology, and thinking of the people of the Middle East help one better understand the scriptures and the reason things happened the way they did during Jesus’ lifetime.
Rescuer of pit bulls
Upon entering Reiff’s office at the church, one may be greeted by an animal of which many people are frightened a pit bull.
Reiff has been rescuing pit bulls and Rottweillers from shelters since he was in San Francisco.
All the dogs he has owned have been rescue dogs, with the first two being German shorthair pointers.
Since whose first dogs, he has rescued seven others, all of which have been either pit bulls or Rottweillers.
“In scripture, everything has the breath of life,” Reiff said. “Christ died for all of creation, not just humanity,” he added, noting he believes dogs are one of God’s creations given to humans to experience joy.
He currently has a male and female pit bull Kermit and Pixie and a Rottweiller named Rex, along with a cat.
“Both (Rottweillers and pit bulls) have reputations people are frightened of, and I was, too,” Reiff said. “But they are absolutely wonderful animals that just love people.”
He came across his first pit bull on a highway in San Francisco, crawling out of a ditch. The dog had been used for fighting, and could barely walk.
From a distance, Reiff thought the dog was old because of how it was moving, but realized how young it was when he looked in its eyes.
The dog only weighed 35 pounds, was covered in scars, and at death’s door, Reiff noted.
He decided to call the dog Jonah. “This dog had been in the belly of the beast, just like Jonah,” Reiff said, noting the dog turned into an over-sized lap dog.
Reiff discovered Kermit, one of his current pit bulls, the day he was supposed to be put to sleep, he said.
“If you have a pit bull you have to be a pit bull ambassador,” Reiff said, noting they should be on a leash at all times, and in a fenced-in yard at home.