For ten years, from 2008 to 2018, Dave Richardson was at the door of Christ Church each Sunday to greet those arriving for the morning service. During that time, thousands of pilgrims visited from nations around the globe and the desire of all hearts was to take part in a special time of worship in Jerusalem. For many of them, this experience was enhanced by the welcome they were given by Dave as they entered the church. And yet, it was altogether surprising that he was there at all. There were several compelling reasons why Dave should not have left his home country to come to Israel.
Dave hailed from Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada, and he loved the spectacular beauty and freedom of his native land. He had no real interest in travel, because, as he said, he could always read the National Geographic! As a Christian, he had a strong interest in learning about Israel, but little attraction to the thought of actually living there. Besides, he enjoyed the cool climate that Canada offered all year round, and the burning sun in Jerusalem, together with the long cloudless summer months, were a challenge. Perhaps the thing that made it most difficult to leave Canada was the fact he had a thriving ministry to drug addicts in his hometown of Victoria. Over the years since he had retired, he had counselled several hundred young men and women, had led many to faith and helped transform many lives. So, why was it that he left all this behind to come to Israel?
The answer, of course, is that the Lord laid it on Dave’s heart and gave him a special call to the Land. He arrived in 2007, with few contacts, but soon made friends and began working as a lay pastor with Mount Zion Fellowship in Jerusalem. Under this umbrella, he started a ministry that provided food to the poor and homeless, and several times a week, together with volunteers, would carry parcels of sandwiches and fruit to the “down and out” in the alleys of the Old City, in Ben Yehuda Street, and the Mahane Yehuda shuk. Soon he had friends and acquaintances from all the varied walks of life in Jerusalem, including Orthodox Jews and Palestinian Arabs. It was not just the gift of food that won their regard; rather, they responded to the warmth of Dave’s personality, and his ability to lift the spirits of all whom he encountered.
Dave also began attending Christ Church on Sunday mornings, and soon became firm friends with Rector David Pileggi. It was not long before David asked Dave if he would become the Church Warden, and also take up the task of greeting visitors at the door. He readily stepped into both roles and soon, on Sunday mornings, was giving each visitor that individual sense of welcome which helped to make the whole experience of worship at Christ Church so memorable.
There was another reason David made that request of Dave: the Canadian had been a police officer in his home country, and, apart from the fact that he was used to engaging with people from many backgrounds, he was also familiar with dealing with situations that could be difficult or threatening. Never were Dave’s eyes closed during a service, even when many were lost in worship for, most especially in Jerusalem, one cannot afford to be complacent about the ever present possibility of danger. And, indeed, a number of tense situations were deflected.
Another thing helped form a bond between Reverend Pileggi and Dave: they shared a love of music. The minister was extremely knowledgeable about developments in the popular and rock music scene of the past decades, while Dave had also been involved with it since the Sixties and Seventies. In fact, Dave was himself a writer of lyrics, and had composed the bestselling Canadian love ballad called “Wildflower,” which was released in 1973 by the band Skylark. The song also launched the career of David Foster, later to become one of America’s leading music entrepreneurs.
Over the six decades since Dave wrote it, “Wildflower” went on to become one of the most performed songs in Canadian popular music, sung at weddings, funerals, graduations and the Olympics. It has been recorded by more than one hundred artists, including Johnny Mathis, Hank Crawford, The O’Jays, and Blake Shelton, and in 2011 it was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. The ballad continues to have an appeal which transcends its time and setting and seems especially to have a power to comfort persons in situations of emotional and spiritual distress. For this reason, it has served as the soundtrack for a US Army video counseling female veterans with PTSD, and as accompaniment to a service for victims of the Columbine tragedy.
What has caused the lasting influence of Dave’s song? Perhaps it is the tenderness and compassion it expresses, that causes the gentle chorus, “Let her cry, for she’s a lady,” to resonate with women of all ages and backgrounds. David Foster’s analysis is also illuminating: he discerned it was the melding of the two opposing sides of Dave’s character – both the tough law enforcement officer and the poet – which enabled him to write such beautiful and haunting words. There were few who could write a lyric that “burned into” one as deeply as did “Wildflower,” he averred. And yet, having witnessed the incredible impact of the ballad on so many lives, Dave himself came to understand that the ballad had actually been inspired by God, and he had simply held the pen whilst the words flowed from above.
In any event, Reverend Pileggi was delighted to now have his very own rock star as part of his congregation! He was happy also to introduce Dave to the woman who would become his wife, Lesley, at the door of Christ Church, and later to marry them in that same church in 2009. And saddened when, for reasons of ill health, Dave found it necessary to return to Canada in late 2018, together with Lesley. She remembers well a day, in August the following year, after they were settled back on Vancouver Island, when Dave came to her with his eyes sparkling. “I’ve had a message from David Pileggi,” he told her, “You’ll never guess what it says, David’s daughter Shira is having … triplets!”
It was not long after that Dave passed away, on 25th August 2019 – four years ago this month - but he is still loved and remembered by so many who come to the doors of Christ Church. You can read more of the amazing story of Dave’s life in the book soon to be released: The Poet-Cop and Wildflower by Lesley Ann Richardson.
May Dave’s memory continue to be a blessing.