by Zinta Erdmanis

For almost 25 years, Father Richard Newland has welcomed Centennial residents to St. Dunstan of Canterbury Anglican Church with open arms: “The doors are wide open.  Come on in!” Unfortunately for many, Father Richard, or Richard as he likes to be called, is retiring this spring.

“We were drawn to St. Dunstan’s in large part because of Father Richard,” said parishioners Christina and Mark Campbell. “His worship style is open, welcoming, and non-judgemental. He doesn’t preach so much as paint a picture with words. His lessons are engaging, informative, delivered with a modern perspective, and always with a touch of dry humour. Richard became extended family to many, including us.”

Church wardens Maggie Burrows and Claire Munroe said the parish has become an integral part of the community thanks to Father Richard. They said they will miss him and won’t forget what he has done to make St. Dunstan what it is today.

Born in Leamington, Richard grew up on the family farm. He studied biochemistry at McMaster University, but realized that wasn’t his calling. Following up on a previous summer job at a funeral home, Richard decided to become a funeral director. When asked once by a mourner how he could deal with death on a daily basis, he answered, “My belief in God.”

“While I was a funeral director I discovered that to help people through their grief needed something more than being a funeral director,” he said. “I began wrestling with a vocational call to ordained ministry.”

Becoming an Anglican priest was a confusing and painful process for Richard, but after many signs were thrown his way he was finally ordained. His first church was a parish outside Collingwood during which time he started a hospice for palliative patients. He also founded an AIDS support group in Simcoe County.

On January 1, 1997, Richard became the incumbent priest of St. Dunstan. The Feast of St. Dunstan is May 19, the same date he was ordained. “This is where God wanted me to be,” he said.

From the beginning, Richard, along with his parish, focused on community outreach, which included the Community Carol Sing,  the Holly Berry Bazaar, theatre productions, Ladies Night Out, Men’s Weekends, and the Canterbury Knights. “The secret of this place is a parish that prays and plays!” Richard said.

Under his guidance, the church also took on global outreach programs. This included a strong relationship with St. John’s Anglican Church, an indigenous parish in York Landing in Northern Manitoba. With the support of Richard and the parish, the Cree worshipers were encouraged to recover their past and learn from the elders. Now many can speak Cree, a language that was almost lost to them. As a show of respect, Richard was given the Cree name “Aljudge,” meaning “we can now talk to you.” In addition, Richard and the accompanying parishioners were invited to attend the sweat lodge with their hosts, a true honour.

Reflecting on his time at St. Dustan, Richard said, “I can honestly say there has never been a day that I didn’t want to be here. The last 25 years have been pure joy.” There are many in our community who feel the same way about him.