Archbishop Harold Lee Nutter, who died September 9 at age 93, is being mourned by many as a gentle, humble pastor who oversaw the diocese of Fredericton and the ecclesiastical province of Canada through a time of considerable turmoil.
“Bishop Harold Nutter was much beloved in the diocese of Fredericton and beyond,” David Edwards, bishop of Fredericton, said in a story published on the diocesan website. “There are many stories of his kindness and down-to-earth manner from people across the province.”
Nutter served as bishop of the diocese from 1971 to 1989, and as metropolitan of the province of Canada (which covers the Atlantic provinces and much of the province of Quebec) from 1980 to 1989. He was the first bishop of Fredericton to have been born in New Brunswick.
“His genius was that he not only listened, but he knew what to do,” recalled George Lemmon, who succeeded Nutter as bishop. “He had a tremendous gift of discernment. He heard it all, analyzed it and threw out a couple of statements that were right on the button.”
Nutter helped the diocese connect to the essentials at a time when it was in need of direction, Lemmon said. “He got the diocese on a more spiritual level, to submit to the Lord, a lot of praying and surrendering.”
Nutter was frank, too, Lemmon said. “He would call it as it is…He was the model for what a good bishop is.”
The Rev. Gerry Laskey, priest at the parish of Derby and Blackville, N.B., said he always felt at home in the bishop’s office.
“He always made time for you,” Laskey said. “You never got the sense that he was rushing you. There was never anything more important to him than you being in front of him.”
Nutter was bishop when the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod authorized the ordination of women as priests in 1976. Nutter did not initially support the practice, but is said to have moderated his position over time. He also presided over another divisive issue, the introduction of the Book of Alternative Services in 1985. According to a biographical sketch on the website of the diocese of Fredericton, Nutter insisted that the Book of Common Prayer continue to be used in at least half the services in any parish.
In a 1996 sermon partially reprinted in the diocese’s newspaper, The New Brunswick Anglican, Nutter argued against the idea that the church ought to change with society to remain relevant.
“We can’t be relevant,” he said. “If we attempt to be relevant to what is going on in society today, by tomorrow it will have changed. We will always be relevant to something that has passed.
“It is time that we had the courage to say to the rest of society: ‘It is time you became relevant to us.’ Because it is in the Church that there is truth and authority.”
Born in Welsford, N.B., in 1923, Nutter received his B.A. from Mount Allison University in 1944, followed by a B.S. Litt from the University of King’s College and M.A. in classics from Dalhousie University, both in 1947. He was ordained a priest in 1947 and served as rector of three New Brunswick parishes from 1947 to 1960, when he was named dean of Fredericton’s Christ Church Cathedral. In 1986, as senior metropolitan, he briefly served as acting primate of the Anglican Church of Canada following the resignation of Archbishop Ted Scott.
In 1970, Nutter was named co-chair of the province’s task force on social development, charged with making recommendations to the government on social conditions and attitudes. It was because of his social advocacy in this and other roles that he was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1998. Nutter also established the diocese of Fredericton’s archives, and served for a time as vice-president of the Canadian Bible Society.
Nutter is survived by his wife of 71 years, Edith; daughter Patricia; son Bruce; and two grandsons.
Visitation will be in Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton, Wednesday, September 13, from 7 to 9 p.m, with a funeral service also at the cathedral the following day at 11 a.m.
—With files from Gisele McKnight, editor, New Brunswick Anglican