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Compassion, grace shape Rev. Dave Motta’s ministry

By: Stephanie Eliason, DWU and Doreen Gosmire, Dakotas Conference

This is the first in a series of several articles featuring clergy who are retiring on July 1, 2021. A special word of thanks to Dakota Wesleyan student ministry for assisting with these articles and to those retiring clergy for being a blessing to many in the Dakotas Conference. 

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Rev. Dave Motta. Photos courtesy of Calvary UMC's Facebook page.

“My faith has not changed but has grown. My faith is based on the word of God that doesn’t change, but we change. I have learned some lessons the hard way. I have more grace and compassion for all people,” says Rev. Dave Motta, who will retire in July after serving the Dakotas Conference for 38 years.

Rev. Dave Motta grew up in Illinois going to an Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB). He knew a lot about God but didn’t make a commitment to God until the age of 17. It was his brother Gary who led him on a path to follow Christ and be in ministry. He was a model. Gary is a retired United Methodist minister.

Motta attended Westmar College in Iowa on a wrestling scholarship. At Westmar, he found good fellowship in bible study, groups that shared testimony, sang at churches and helped with summer camps. Pastor Dave obtained a degree in secondary education and wanted to coach wrestling.  

He couldn’t find teaching jobs. A youth worker job was open, but Dave didn’t feel the job was a good match. Then Pastor Sam Graff drove from Milbank, South Dakota, to Wesmar in LeMars, Iowa, to talk to him about the job. Graff asked that Mott interview for the job. 

“Sam seemed Godly and different than me. He was in a nice suit and put together. I was wearing baggy pants and didn’t even have my shirt tucked in. But Sam accepted me for who I was.” says Motta.  

Graff convinced him to apply, and Motta spent three years in Milbank. It was during that time he was called into the ministry. Graff was appointed to Bismarck, North Dakota. Pastor Dave heard that the high school wrestling coach left Milbank and thought he might apply for that job. So, he went to Pastor Sam to tell him about the opportunity. 

“Pastor Sam suggested, ‘might God be calling you to preach?’ I didn’t even question him. I never applied for the teaching job. Sam was God’s tool for calling me into ministry.” says Motta.

After one more year as the youth worker, Motta headed to seminary. Milbank Central and the Dakotas Conference have always been home to his ministry. While in seminary, Pastor Dave attended and assisted at Trinity in Deerfield, Illinois. His brother Gary was there. 

After seminary, Pastor Dave was appointed to Stickney, South Dakota. “In my seven years at Stickney, I became well connected to the community,” he says. “Many members of the congregation were from a Dutch Reform background.”

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Pastor takes a selfie by the "Love" display at Calvary UMC.

In 1991 he was appointed as the associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Then in May of 1996, he was appointed to serve Calvary United Methodist Church in Fargo, North Dakota. “When I arrived at Calvary, the pastor, choir director, and 50 people in the congregation had decided to leave,” says Motta. “I spent the first year just listening to people, getting to know them, loving them. I have seen some wonderful things during my time at Calvary, including the church sharing space with an African Church. Things have not always been smooth. Trust has been built, and the church Is growing.”

Motta notes that three separate congregations share one space to worship the Lord at Calvary—an independent Bible Church, the African Church, and Calvary UMC. 

Besides Rev. Sam Graff and his brother Gary, Motta saw Rev. Eldon Riech and his father-in-law, Rev. Omar Hardin, as mentors in faith and ministry. 

When asked about one piece of advice learned throughout your ministry career that was invaluable, he responded. “Put people over programs. Relationships are so important not only for the pastor but the congregation. Stick with the Bible, the basics, offer people Christ the best you can and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. It is important to value people even if they disagree with you.

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Dave and Mary Motta at the cabin.

Motta has led his congregations through times of crisis, tension, and uncertainty, including the current pandemic, political tensions, and impending split of the denomination. He says, “I would love it if God would use whatever the crisis might be to bring people more together than apart. Perhaps during these crises, people might be more open to the Gospel. Maybe we’ll look back and see the Gospel advanced more than we could have hoped during these moments.”

In retirement, he plans to move to a cabin in Finlayson, Minnesota. Dave and his wife Mary purchased the cabin a few years ago. 

“We are so blessed to have people at Calvary sending us into retirement by helping us fix up the cabin! They’re sending groups of people up now and then to do work with them,” says Pastor Dave. “I am planning to find a church to be involved with, maybe preach here and there, be good neighbors, maybe start a bible study, visit people, maybe pick up a little job to be out and around people.”

Calvary UMC is planning a celebration of Pastor Davie's ministry, Saturday, June 26, 2021, at 2-5 p.m.  There will be a Farewell Worship on Sudany, June 27, 2021, at 9 a.m.   You can share your stories, photos, and encouraging words digitally by sending them to by May 30, 2021. 

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