By Joanne Viviano
COLUMBUS: As he lay dying, Gerald Koster’s father told his wife that he had done what he could to lead people to Christianity and the salvation he was certain it provided.
Koster still remembers his words: I’ve warned people, so their blood is not on my hands.
At his father’s funeral, as he passed by the casket, the 18-year-old Koster made a promise: “I’ll warn them too, Dad.”
And so began the path that led Koster to follow in the footsteps of his church-pastor father.
He recently celebrated his 70th anniversary in ministry, when he turned 90.
“I’ve had an exciting journey. I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said.
He expected to spend six months to a year at Orient United Methodist Church in Pickaway County, which was in danger of closing when he arrived. He’s now in his 13th year and, in 2013, still preached almost every Sunday.
He sings and tries to incorporate humor in his sermons. And, he said, he’s still learning.
“I tell God every day, ‘I want to be better today. I want to be more like you than I was yesterday,’ ” he said.
Church member Sherry Hakes said Koster has helped church members through illnesses, transplants and other difficult times.
“He’s brought a lot of healing to that church,” she said. “People don’t think there are any miracles anymore but, boy, do we have testimony to tell them. But that’s through a great shepherd. He’s like none other.”
When Koster arrived, she said, the church had eight members. It has since grown to as many as 75.
Now, there are about 55 members, said Jean Kessler, a member for decades.
“He really didn’t come to stay, but that’s what he did,” she said. “If he hadn’t a come, we would have lost our church.”
Koster received his first license to preach in 1943, when he served as a lay preacher for the United Brethren. He estimates that he has since preached or taught at least 12,000 times and done about 2,000 funerals. He retired — on paper — in 1991.
Judy Andrews started attending Orient United Methodist about 11 years ago. She took her grandchildren, who were ages 8, 10 and 12, and his sense of humor hooked them.
“When you get young boys to want to go to church, that’s very strong,” she said.
Over the years, Koster has preached in the United Brethren in Christ, Evangelical United Brethren, Baptist and United Methodist denominations, as well as at the Hungarian Reformed Church. He also spent more than 20 years at the Training Institute of Central Ohio, a school for incarcerated boys and men ages 16 to 21.
He’s served in a number of Ohio communities, including Pataskala, Corning, Dayton, Grove City, Columbus, Zanesville and Washington Court House.
He’s traveled with a mission team to South Africa and on educational tours to Europe and Israel. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, working as a chaplain’s assistant in hospitals at Fort Bragg, N.C., and in England, France and Germany.
He’s survived a quadruple bypass surgery and gall-bladder surgery that caused gangrene, and the loss of his wife of 62 years, Marjorie Echo, in 2009.
“It’s amazing what this man is doing at his age. It’s incredible,” said Koster’s daughter, Candy Weigand, who assists him in his ministry. “This church wouldn’t make it if it wasn’t for him.”
She calls him “Moses Junior.”
“A lot of people still need him in their lives,” she said. “I know I do.”