David Doel obituary

Other lives: Unitarian minister who combined his religious mission with psychoanalysis

In his late teens, my father, David Doel, had a Damascene experience when he climbed Todmorden moor in West Yorkshire. Depressed, he lay down in the bracken, surrendered to his fate and, as he wrote in a later poem: “Love found me like water from a spring, not open to my grasp but flowing as a gift through arid ground, refurbishing and making new.”

The course of his life changed. David, who has died aged 87, determined to become a minister of religion and rose to be a leading light in the Unitarian denomination.

He was born in Todmorden to Victor, a businessman, and Avis (nee Bentley), a mill worker. After Blackpool grammar school, David went straight into training on the job as a journalist on the Todmorden News and Advertiser, but, after his revelatory moment on the moor, and having completed national service in the RAF, he entered the Unitarian College in Manchester in 1953 as a lay pastor student.

He combined his studies with a part-time ministry in Blackley in Manchester and then a second ministry at Hindley, near Wigan. As money was tight, he took on other jobs, including as a factory worker, car mechanic, social worker and college lecturer.

David was an unconventional figure, and I remember the Hindley parsonage as an open house for tramps, who were always sure to find a welcome. The biggest room was a studio adorned with David’s large paintings of nudes and landscapes. He was invited to lead services in the local pub.

While in the ministry, David took a master’s degree extramurally at Manchester University, and a PhD followed in 1973, also from Manchester. His thesis, The Perennial Psychology, was published by Lindsey Press.

His final ministry was at Old Chapel in Dukinfield, Manchester, where he developed a close relationship with his congregation and, unusually, was appointed minister emeritus on retirement. A lifelong reader of the Guardian, he supported Amnesty International by writing letters worldwide to support those who were unjustly incarcerated.

Always a contemplative man, he became even more so in his later years. He had a calming, loving presence that touched the lives of many people.

He underwent psychoanalysis with his mentor, Charles Bartlett, over several years in the late 1950s and 60s, after which he combined his ministry with a psychoanalytical practice that continued until 2010. He saw his psychoanalytic and spiritual work as part of the same mission.

David’s first wife, Joan (nee Sunderland), whom he had married in 1950, died in 2010. He is survived by his second wife, Sue (nee Roberts), by me, from his first marriage, and by three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Mark Doel

The GuardianTramp

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