He’s known as David, Goge’s even Golly by those with long memories, but rarely do you hear Bethany/Tabor Lutheran Church’s minister being called Pastor Gogoll these days, he’s always thought the title a little too formal.
Yet from December 27, the 67 year old will be called “retired”, after bidding farewell to the parish he has served since 1994.
“I’ll have three services that day, they’ll do a little ritual at each one of those to set me free,” laughed the father of four.
“I’ll be two weeks short of being 36 years in the ministry…26 and a half of those were here in this parish. It is a pretty long time to be in one place in today’s world, but I’m not setting any records.”
He and wife, Dian won’t be leaving the Barossa though, they’ve already made the shift from Bethany Manse to their own home in Tanunda last year and David’s roots are firmly fixed in the Barossa.
Raised in Lyndoch and schooled at Nuriootpa High, he initially finished an apprenticeship as a winemaker at Seppeltsfield making fortifieds and his boss invited him to plan a trip to Spain and Portugal to further his skills, then enrol in a winemaking degree.
David had different ideas. He and Dian had already discussed the prospects of him studying for the ministry but he thought as a married man in his mid-twenties, he had left his run too late. That calling became louder after attending a youth convention when he was told there was a need for pastors.
“Then I had to say I don’t think I’m going to be here next year,” David said of the awkward conversation with his boss ahead of the 1978 vintage, months before learning if he had even been accepted into Luther Seminary.
David’s first parish was in the Darling Downs of Queensland, his second in Albany, Western Australia and then, as a 40 year old, he accepted the call to Bethany/Tabor.
With Dian and their four sons ranging from 4-13 years of age at the time, David was thrilled to be moving closer to his parents.
“One of the really ‘bitter sweet’ things that happened was the morning we left Albany to come here, Dad died. So, instead of coming home to be closer to him, we came home for his funeral,” he said sadly.
“But the way in which the parish here cared for us really created a bond that was a good foundation for my ministry in this place. That’s why I say it was bitter sweet.”
Those relationships grew stronger and David looks back on many fond memories.
Christmas Eve services in front of huge crowds at Faith were “loads of fun”, as too the relaxed “Introducing God” meetings he led at the Tanunda Hotel with beer in hand. The church also hosted a number of interesting international guest speakers.
“Lots of good things have happened,” David said. “Most of them were probably other people’s ideas and I’ve just been fortunate to be part of them.”
David has seen a number of changes. In his early days, he read from his manuscript during sermons, but when Bethany/Tabor moved to three services each Sunday 20 years ago, he thought why not preach without notes? So he did.
“Most people loved it because they could relate better but a few people thought that I had made it up, that I had stopped writing my sermons and was being lazy!” David laughed.
“It would be interesting to be able to go back and look at a video of a service in 1994 because I’ve got a feeling it might be quite a surprise.”
Connecting “everyday life and worship life” in a warm, welcoming way has always been David’s goal and he’s been able to achieve it through his innate love for people, ability to simplify complicated language into everyday speech, and his uncanny capacity to remember nearly everyone he meets.
“God gave me a gift for remembering names, it’s quite obviously that,” he said. “Even after years, people’s names just seem to stick!”
David’s relaxed, friendly and approachable nature is likely the reason he’s been asked to officiate at 352 weddings since arriving in Bethany.
“With baptisms, it’s more like 600 probably, I haven’t added them up for a while,” he said.
“Another interesting thing is that I’ve known so many lovely people who are no longer with us so I’ve probably done 300 funerals while I was here.
“One of the real advantages of being a pastor is being able to journey with people and their family to death. Especially for those where it is a slow process, just to be with them and spend that time with them is a privilege.”
The wider challenges of the church are not lost on David as he contemplates its role in this day and age.
“God gets a lot of bad press and a lot of it comes from his people,” he said.
“For years I’ve thought the Bible is predominantly a love letter from God rather than a rule book. But there is always an element within the Christian Church that sees it as the rule book and they want to throw it at everyone all the time – that gives God and the church a bad name.
“There’s been a shift in the need for church, the need for God. I don’t know, it’s interesting. I won’t give up thinking about these things in my retirement, but now I won’t have the responsibility!”
David is looking forward to camping trips and kayaking adventures in his retirement and he has a pre-prepared tongue in cheek response to those asking which church he’ll be attending in the future.
“For nearly 20 years I’ve been going to church three times each Sunday morning, so I figure I’m about 40 years in credit – I’m not going anywhere until that’s used up!” he joked.