As he watched the snow recede and the mercury rise in his rearview mirror, Rev.  Peter van der Leelie felt a bit like he was coming home.

Van der Leelie left Killarney, Man. near the end of February and arrived in Merritt to begin working at St. Michael’s Anglican Church on March 1.

“The day we left, I’ll never forget it. It was -47 C,” he said.

Coming back to B.C.’s Interior after four years of working in the rural Manitoban community of 3,300 was a bit of a homecoming for the long-time Kamloopsian.

It was the prospect of being nearer to his family and the vacancy at St. Michael’s that made the timing right for van der Leelie’s return.

“When we arrived in Manitoba, I had no grandchildren and I thought, That’s years down the road,” he said with a laugh.

As it happened, grandchildren weren’t long: today, they are one and four years old.

The former newspaperman had headed east in search of an adventure, but didn’t leave his sense of adventure behind when he came back to B.C.

“This is a real opportunity to do something interesting,” he said of his move to Merritt.

That means going beyond the traditional Sunday service and reaching out to his parishioners, helping them in whatever way he can, he said.

His first order of business in Merritt is to connect with the members of his church and hear where they’d like to see it go, which is well underway.

“People here over the last few years have realized that there are major changes coming, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come, because they were already at that point instead of me trying to talk them into something,” he said.

Among his plans are to encourage more spiritual activity, including theatre performances and a speaker series, at the Anglican Church Hall.

The hall is where Anglican Sunday services typically take place instead of the un-insulated century-old church next door.

For van der Leelie, the lessons of the church don’t depend on them being taught inside the church building.

“People like to hold on to what was, and I think this time around we’re going back to the very early days of the church to where you actually go out to be with people, to help people,” he said. “It’s a really more missional church. God doesn’t change, but the church, like anything else, has to change.”

With his three-year contract at the local parish, van der Leelie will evaluate where the church is going each year.

It’s that freedom within the Anglican Church that led van der Leelie to it in the first place.

He said he originally wanted to be a Roman Catholic priest, but that plan was foiled when he fell in love while working at a newspaper on Vancouver Island as Catholic priests generally can’t marry.

His wife’s father, who’s an Anglican priest, introduced him to the idea of pursuing that branch of Christianity.

“Then I discovered there’s a lot of freedom in the Anglican Church and you don’t necessarily have to come with a certain set of rules,” he said. “So, that was kind of wonderful.”

In the mid-1990s, van der Leelie left his newspaper work and went to St. George’s in Kamloops. He then joined St. Bartholomew’s in Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast, where he spent five years before heading out to Manitoba.

The Merritt move brings van der Leelie back to a long-established network of peers in the Interior.

“This is where I started so it’s like coming full-circle,” he said.