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Pastor Donner B. Atwood Honored as NewBridge co-Founder

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

The Rev. Donner B. Atwood, circa 1970As pastor of The First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains, the Rev. Donner B. Atwood visited parishioners in the hospital and at their homes, leaving a calling card with the Serenity Prayer on the back, his son, Andy Atwood, recalled. “He deeply enjoyed working with people in a pastoral role,” he said. “He was warm and welcoming to all.”

Atwood, known to most as ‘Pastor Atwood,’ trained in counseling and made the church building available for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. But as mental health concerns mounted in the community, he realized there was “a greater need than he could serve,” Andy Atwood said. In 1963, Pastor Atwood and four others founded the Pequannock Valley Mental Health Center, which would become NewBridge Services.

‘Such a Blessing’

“My dad would be in amazement at the depth, breadth and vitality of NewBridge,” said Andy Atwood, who followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming an ordained minister and then co-founding a marriage and family counseling center in Michigan. “NewBridge has been such a blessing to the whole community.”

Pastor Atwood’s daughter, Cindy Golden, was born the same year as NewBridge. Her memories are about the kindness of her dad and his fondness for growing flowers, especially irises. She loved attending the church’s live nativity scene each Christmas season. Once while there, she lost a baby tooth in the snow. “I was afraid the tooth fairy wouldn’t come, but dad told me not to worry.” Golden found a quarter under her pillow the next morning.

‘More Work to Do’

In 1968, Golden was hospitalized for nine months with encephalitis, while her brother, David, was being treated for cancer in another hospital. David Atwood died at age 17 in February 1969. Parishioners rallied around the Atwood family, making sure they always came home to “a hot meal and lots of love,” Andy Atwood said. The following year, Pastor Atwood, whose father died when he was 12, became gravely ill. Pastor Atwood recounted to his son a conversation he had in the middle of the night with his deceased son and God. They told him, “You’ve got more work to do,” Andy Atwood said.

The Atwoods moved from Pompton Plains in 1976 when Pastor Atwood became head of the Wyckoff Reformed Church. Compassionate about end-of-life concerns, Pastor Atwood helped start a hospice program in town, Golden said.

Anne Atwood, Pastor Atwood’s wife of 59 years, created a book, “The Best Years,” for their 50th anniversary, Andy Atwood recalled. His father had been a conscientious objector in World War II, spoke out against racism in the 1950s, opposed the Vietnam War in the 1960s, and advocated for greater ecumenism in the 1970s. After his father received “pointed criticism,” he told his son,“If you stand for something, you’re going to get pushback,” Andy Atwood recalled.

The Atwoods retired to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where the family had spent summer vacations. Pastor Atwood died in 2005, at age 83.

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