Kingscliff punk pastor packing the pews
AS A former pierced punk-rocker skater boy who is leading the Kingscliff Seventh Day Adventist church, tattooed American David Asscherick's life has been anything but conventional.
Moving to the bottom of the world was another unlikely move for a man who is a big-name pastor in the SDA denomination globally.
His "God-given" ability to communicate the Christian message in a fresh way, minus religious jargon, has built him a large following.
The 43-year-old's sermons are aired on TV and radio and his YouTube videos rack up tens of thousands of hits. He is a published author.
But it was David's passionate adherence to veganism (a diet excluding all animal products) which set him on the life path that prompted him and his wife Violeta and two sons to move to the Tweed Shire 15 months ago.
"I wouldn't wear leather shoes, I wouldn't ride in a car with leather seats, I was full on," David recalls of his 20-year-old self.
He and his raucous punk-rocker friends started patronising a new vegan eatery that opened in their hometown of Rapid City, South Dakota.
It was run by members of the SDA church, a denomination for whom health and a plant-based diet play a big role.
David and his friends were embraced by the owner and staff, who showed them kindness and were non-judgmental.
For two years, David, who had previously been ambivalent about religion, peppered them with questions about their faith. In 1997, at 23 years of age, he too became a believer.
At the time he was pre-med at the University of Wyoming.
He had enrolled after moving back home from California, where he lived for a short stint upon graduating from high school with the goal of becoming a pro-skateboarder.
But David became disillusioned after drawing the conclusion that rising to the top in the skating scene was more about who you knew than your skills.
He had also been playing bass and fronting numerous punk-rock bands and was somewhat of a celebrity.
David had been introduced to the punk-rock lifestyle at 11 years of age by a friend.
He liked its angry defiance against the mainstream, but not its self-destructive side.
So he naturally gravitated to a punk subculture - straight edge - that strictly enforces standards of behaviour, including eschewing drugs, alcohol and promiscuity.
A nasty encounter with the whisky in his dad's liquor cabinet at the age of 16 had turned him off mind-altering substances for life.
Many straight-edgers were also vegans, which is why that SDA eatery was so popular with David and his friends.
After embracing Christianity, David took a year off his medical studies to study the Bible.
He never returned to medical studies.
He started teaching the Bible, which eventually led to pastoring and after becoming a sought-after speaker, he travelled the country and also led churches.
David and his family also began visiting Australia and the Tweed Shire to teach at churches.
When the last Kingscliff pastor left (also an American), he proposed that David take over.
David and Violeta have had to make some cultural adjustments, including in his case toning down his effusive personality.
"I've had to turn my Americanism down a bit... to dial it back a bit and not be the loudest, most verbose person in the room," he says.
But they admire the way Australians do life, and the authenticity of its people.
"When I go back to America I say, 'They do life a little bit better than us'," David says.
"I think (Australia's) the perfect mix of English and American culture.
"We're just loving this chapter of our lives."
Charismatic pastor has a growing flock
MEMBERS of the Kingscliff Seventh Day Adventist Church at Phillip St, Chinderah, say the congregation has grown since Pastor David Asscherick's arrival.
Katie Bonello, who has attended for four years, said: "He has a very energetic kind of contagious personality and he's able to really succinctly explain the gospel."
The 30-year-old said the pastor was transparent about his life and not afraid of admitting to his mistakes. That included the collection of speeding tickets he's racked up since moving to Australia.
David North from Limpinwood, who has attended the church for 11 years, said Pastor Asscherick had brought both a gift for speaking and for teaching.
Pastor Asscherick says the congregation is now at 95% capacity.