Rev. Dr. Charles E. Cairo, with his wife Jane, shows Rev. Bill Teague photos from his prior career as a professional photographer' at their Forest Park home on Tuesday August 8, 2023 | Todd Bannor

This year Rev. Bill Teague is celebrating 20 years as pastor of Hope Tabernacle, while Rev. Charles Cairo passed his 45-year mark last year. 

The two men are as different as can be in temperament and history, but when they got together to tell their stories, they agreed they wound up in the right place when it came to God’s plan.

Teague grew up on the West Side near the corner of Washington and Franciso in a single-parent household. The saying, “I’m from a rich family; the only thing was we didn’t have a lot of money” applies to his childhood.

“My mom and my grandmother raised me,” Teague explained, “but we didn’t grow up as poor people. I never felt like I was missing something. We’d go to the hot dog stand on the corner, someone would buy a Polish and we’d split it. We’d play baseball in a vacant lot, and the ball we used was wrapped up with masking tape.”

He said the men in the neighborhood made up for the absence of a man in his home. They provided him with role models and made sure he grew up “in the right way.”

It was people in the neighborhood who made sure the community was taken care of. When he took his grandmother grocery shopping, she would tell him to run across the street and see if a lady who was living alone needed anything before they entered the store. He said that even the local gang helped “put the neighbor in the hood” as his colleagues in PTMAN like to say.

From childhood on, Teague was always involved in the church, and from early on he felt like he had “a callin’ from God.” His pastor and church members told him so, but he resisted that call for years, for decades even. 

He worked for Allstate as an IT person for 34 years, but was always involved in the church, especially in youth work, and it wasn’t until he broke down and cried at a men’s conference that he “surrendered” to God’s call.

When he told his pastor that the Almighty had called him to minister, the pastor responded, “Well, it took you long enough.”

Rev. Bill Teague at the home of Rev. Dr. Charles E. Cairo on Tuesday August 8, 2023 | Todd Bannor

In 2003 Hope Tabernacle was born in his home around the kitchen table. From that humble beginning, the small congregation moved to the American Legion Hall on Circle Avenue and after a short time there, they moved to the building now owned by St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church where they rented space and held worship services for almost 20 years.

When asked to list the highlights of his ministry, Teague said, “There have not been any lowlights. We’re not trying to be a mega-church like Pastor Bill Winston’s Living Word. We average 20 to 30 people at worship each Sunday, and sometimes it’s hard to make financial ends meet.

He’s not worried about the numbers. He doesn’t go door-to-door evangelizing. “God didn’t call us to do that kind of thing,” he explained. “We put a sign outside the church on Sunday morning, so you can know we are there. Every time someone comes in for the service, it’s a highlight. If they come twice, they are members The doors are open, and we make sure the windows are open so people can hear the music.

Speaking of which, Hope Tabernacle’s praise team, six women accompanied by keyboard and drums, is really good. “They take it seriously,” said Teague proudly. “We have praise dancers, too. They do not have fame and glory, but everything they do is top tier.”

Rev. Teague retired from Allstate seven years ago but recently began working again. This time with elderly adults with special needs.

He has four daughters, but added with a smile, “I have many sons in the congregation. They call me Pops.”

His congregation will honor him and his wife with a luncheon at the Wildfire restaurant in Oak Brook on Sept. 23.

 * * * *

When it came time for Charles Cairo to tell his story, he looked at his colleague, laughed and said, “I wasn’t born in a choir loft.”

“My dad was a Buddhist,” he said, “and ethnically I’m Italian, Greek and Jew, so I grew up confused. I got my first tattoo at 13, and I tried heroin in the same year.” 

Rev. Dr. Charles E. Cairo and his wife Jane at their Forest Park home on Tuesday August 8, 2023 | Todd Bannor

After graduating from high school on the South Side, he joined the Air Force and served for six years as an MP (military police). After he was discharged, he could not find a job so he hung out with people in the counter culture — “motorcycles, drugs, sex and rock-and-roll. We called my drug dealer Fuzzy.”

Cairo finally found work as a photographer, and his album contains photos of Lee Iacocca, Richard Nixon and both Mayor Daleys. “I was very good at photography,” he recalled, “and very good at drugs.”

Ironically, it was Fuzzy who put Cairo on the path that led to ministry. 

“After not seeing him for a time,” he recalled, “I bumped into him on the street and said that I needed some ‘stuff.’ His reply was that he had something better — Jesus Christ.”

And so it happened that his former drug dealer introduced him to Jesus People USA. Their website states, “We are a church family of nearly 200 people living together in intentional community, sharing a 10-story building in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.”

The future Reverend Doctor, in other words, transitioned from the hedonistic side of the ’60s and ’70s counter culture to religious expression. The website adds, “We take on the radically counter-cultural yet fantastically ordinary task of doing life together.”

That involvement led both to Cairo “getting saved” and to the founding of Fire Escape Ministry, currently in its 46th year of ministry.

What happened next might be called a “dual ministry.” After getting out of the Air Force, Cairo was trained by Cook County and then certified as a probation officer with the Cook County Court System where he worked for 19 years. He had an office at Madden Mental Health Center, and used the chapel there for religious services.

Simultaneously, he was working with the Fire Escape Ministry which among other things operated a coffeehouse called Neutral Ground, a food pantry in Berwyn and a ministry at Madden Mental Health Center on First Avenue in Maywood.

Cairo worked as a probation officer for 19 years with “interstate compact.” 

“I was pretty good at that,” he said to his badge on a bookshelf in his living room. “It took four people to replace me.”

He continued his work as a probation officer and a Jesus People-style minister in Fire Escape Ministry until two things happened. Ten years ago he was hit by a car and dragged down the street which left him disabled and needing a wheelchair to get around.

The second thing was that the state of Illinois decided his work at Madden violated the separation of church and state.

“So now I’m crippled,” he said with his typical “tell it like it is” candor. “I can’t do photography. I can’t get around to preach in churches now. What I do is counseling. When I left probation, I had all these credentials like certification in addictions counseling and two doctor degrees, so I do counseling in my home.”

He refers to his work as pastoral counseling because he uses the Bible and prayer in treating his clients. 

Not naïve when it comes to working with domestic violence, he has God in his heart, but keeps a Glock 9mm at his side.