It’s a sight to behold and not one usually associated with pastors, when motorcycling ministers Adrian Kitson, Julian Bayha and Detlev Vosgerau arrive at Marananga’s Gnadenfrei Lutheran Church.
The serenity of the Seppeltsfield landscape with its sweeping carpet of vines and towering palm trees is broken by the low rumble of purring engines and flashes of highly polished chrome, sparkling in the bright Autumn sun.
Wide smiles are proof that these faithful three are just like any other Barossans who love nothing more than to don their leathers and go for a spin.
“I think most pastors are stereotyped into a particular personality and character,” says Greenock Lutheran Parish’s Pastor Detlev, now seated with the others in the back pew of his Sunday workplace.
“But we’re not like that at all, in fact we are all very different…In a sense, it’s almost like the community de-humanises us because we are clergy.”
There is a nod of agreement from all three as they chat about the “huge gamut of personality types” and varied pastimes shared among their clergy colleagues, from playing footy to arm wrestling.
“I think turning up on a motorcycle…shocks people into realising that this person coming to see them is not just a pastor, he’s a person,” Detlev says.
The German born minister of 35 years migrated to New Zealand before going to the Lutheran Seminary following a few years at university.
Arriving in the Barossa just six months ago, he likes to say he’s “the oldest and wisest, but the newest kid on the block” when it comes to the Barossa’s bikie ministers.
Not one to be “hooked” on any particular model or make, Detlev has ridden motorbikes since the age of fifteen.
“It was the cheapest form of transport in the early seventies… you couldn’t afford cars in New Zealand and I liked going fast and the only way to go fast was on a motorbike!” he laughs.
The self described extrovert admits to taking a tumble or two along the way, but nothing too serious.
“That’s okay, it only hurts for a little while! Life is inherently risky.”
His current ride is a BMW but he can’t say the exact number of bikes he’s owned over the years.
“My wife would say too many! I never get attached to a particular type of bike so I keep changing them on a fairly regular basis…I just like something and there you go!”
It’s a stark contrast to the pastor sitting alongside him who is staunchly proud of his choice of motorbike.
“I’ve got a Triumph Thunderbird,” announces Pastor Adrian Kitson with a cheeky grin.
“It’s a beautiful piece of machinery, it’s biblical…You won’t find BMW or Honda in the Bible, but you will find Triumph, the word appears quite a lot of times.”
The Nuriootpa St. Petri Lutheran Church pastor loves a low riding cruiser but says he would “never ride a Harley”.
He’s got the leather bikie vest and rocks a navy blue face scarf – a stark contrast to the robe and stole you’ll find him wearing on a Sunday.
Adrian was “a kid about 8 years old” when he was introduced to dirt bikes or what he calls “chook chasers” on the family farm.
“That was the beginning…and I’ve ridden all the years since.”
A full time church worker for about 30 years, Adrian has been a pastor for 17.
“I was the same age as when Jesus got crucified, so 33 – I was hoping it wasn’t going to turn out the same way!” he laughs.
“I was a youth worker and did that for more than 10 years and then decided Seminary was the place to try…It was a bit of a long journey.”
Looking back, he describes himself as a “yuppy” twenty year old who didn’t
want to be one of “those pastors”.
“They were part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he said of his thinking at the time.
“Eventually it made a fair bit of sense to at least study theology and see what happens after that. That was kind of the start of my Seminary journey – then it made sense.
“All these years later and I’m not dead yet! I’m not burnt out terribly much so I’m still in the game, see how long I last!”
His wry sense of humour belies a deep spirituality that all three share as they serve God and their communities.
All agree their preferred mode of transport has “definitely” helped in their ministries at various times, starting conversations that would never have happened otherwise.
Riding motorbikes, whether alone or together, is an experience they all treasure.
“I reckon in our job, you never finish anything… there is multiple things all the time whereas when you ride a motorbike, there’s one thing – you start and you finish and it’s a good day. You have one focus and you are just another geeza on the road,” Adrian says.
“It’s fun too, but I think the serious aspect of it is the whole thing about blokes needing to talk about stuff. Us pastors are public people and it’s an interesting job with high expectations. So, it’s really great to just chew the fat about what’s going on for each other and that’s what I value most when we go away.
“It wards off a bit of burnout I think, maybe a bit of depression, the old black dog and all that stuff. There’s a reason why these bike groups exist I think.”
Tanunda’s Langmeil Lutheran Church’s Pastor Julian couldn’t agree more.
“We’ve actually got a group at Langmeil that gets together reasonably regularly for bike rides, they’re are called Langmeil Lutheran Larrikins – the LLL.”
The group meet on a Saturday morning and ride anything from classic bikes and tourers, to cruisers and off road bikes.
“We invite others to come along, numbers range from about 8 to 30. We had one in February and 30 blokes rocked up.
“It’s just mainly fellowship, getting together, a bit of bonding with other congregations and other pastors.
“You get that connection and you get to know others from other congregations and it opens opportunities for other things you might do together, like Men’s Shed meetings and other events.”
Julian has “pretty much” always wanted to be a minister, starting out studying Greek and Hebrew before joining the Seminary.
Now in his 23rd year as a pastor, he tells of moving to Germany as a nine year old and being introduced to motorbikes at a young age. He’s been riding ever since and says he’s partial to Japanese built machines, choosing a Honda cross tourer as his current mode of transport.
It’s quite the contrast from the first motorbike he rode as a 15 year old.
“I started riding on a German Motorfahrt 50cc – a little moped thing with a top speed of 25 kilometres an hour!” he laughs.
Julian is known to rock up to the job on his bike. And whilst he has never parked it in the church aisle, there’s a sparkle in his eye that says it’s crossed his mind.
“I’ve been to funerals… done weddings. It’s great for hospital visiting, especially with parking,” he says.
They may not be your typical bikie gang, but these Reverend Revheads are shunning stereotype in style, proving pastors are as human as anyone else as they go about their job.
Detlev says, “I don’t think it’s tougher than a lot of professional jobs in all honesty, but it is relentless in that you carry other people’s needs all the time, their emotional, spiritual and other needs and that can be tiresome. I think it’s not fully understood by most people.”
In the lead up to the 500th anniversary of reformation, all agree church culture has changed but are pleased it continues “for the people, by the people”.
“The church is under the pump, everyone knows that…but it will survive, it will exist, it will keep serving. It might look different and stuff, but we’ll be around,” Adrian adds.
As for their opinion of what Lutheran Church founder, Martin Lutheran would be thinking five centuries on, opinions are divided.
“He would have bought a Triumph!” says Adrian.
“No, he’s German! He would have ridden a BMW,” say the others.
One thing’s for sure – boys will be boys.