One of Bob Donald’s final wishes was to hold the signed agreement that officially confirmed the amalgamation of St. David Anglican Church and Holy Cross Lutheran Church, both in Orillia.
The two congregations came together in 2008 to become St. David Anglican-Lutheran Church, but the agreement wasn’t finalized by all parities, including the diocese and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, until this past September.
Mr. Donald, a long-time parishioner and stalwart of St. David’s who had terminal cancer, wanted to hold the document while he still could. He was proud of the amalgamation and what the church had achieved.
“We came together and never looked back,” he said. “We’ve been a strong church family with lots of energy and commitment.”
Mr. Donald’s wish came true on Nov. 13, when he was presented with the agreement and a letter of commendation from Archbishop Colin Johnson and Bishop Peter Fenty, the area bishop of York-Simcoe, recognizing him for his faithful service to St. David’s over the years. “It was awesome,” he said.
Mr. Donald died a week later on Nov. 21. The congregation celebrated his life and faith on the following weekend.
Mr. Donald was one of the key people at St. David’s who kept the congregation together and moving forward as it entered into discussions and then merged with Holy Cross. He provided leadership as the two congregations came together and tried to figure out how to live as a shared community. It was one of the first Anglican-Lutheran mergers in the diocese and it wasn’t clear how they were going to do it.
“This is a tiny community, and Bob really helped people to trust,” says the Rev. Lori Pilatzke, the incumbent, who called Mr. Donald the church’s ambassador. “He was a giant of a man in physical stature, and he had a faith and a passion equal to his size. He made things happen.”
The merged congregations adopted several changes early in their history. One was to hold blended services instead of a separate service for Anglicans and another for Lutherans. The worship material was projected up on screens, so no on had to juggle books or find passages they weren’t familiar with.
“That made us strong right off the bat,” said Mr. Donald in an interview shortly before his death. “We decided to be the best of the best, and that’s who we were.”
The church also changed some terminology, to be more appealing and understandable to newcomers. For instance, the word “Churchwarden” was replaced by the Lutheran term “Council Chair” – an adjustment that Mr. Donald, who was a churchwarden at the time, readily embraced. “We don’t have wardens anymore – those are for prisons,” he said with a chuckle.
Mr. Donald helped Ms. Pilatzke and the church get through a difficult period when several members left after learning that Ms. Pilatzke was in a same-gender marriage. “He endured all of that and held the place together,” she says. “Personally, I was not in a good place at that time and his words were, ‘We’re just going to keep loving you while you heal.’”
The episode helped to clarify St. David’s vision as a welcoming place for all. “Hospitality and Christ-like welcome – that, in essence, is what Bob represented in his walk with the Lord,” she says.
Mr. Donald’s generosity extended outside the parish as well. One day he saw a woman crying at the end of the church’s walkway. She was new to Canada and commuting from Toronto to work at a nursing home in Orillia. Mr. Donald and his wife provided her with a room in their home.
“It’s sort of in my nature to always care for others,” he explained. “I’ve always had a place in my heart for people who have less than me and less than others and who are very disrespected for no good reason at all. We serve a community that is very underserved – people on fixed incomes or are disabled. The only people who seem to care about them are the people who go to church.”