As Bishop George Bruce visited parishes shortly after he announced his retirement, it occurred to him that he was visiting them for the last time as leader of the diocese of Ontario.
Bishop Bruce thought it would be an easy task. In fact, it was kind of emotional. “I’ve been through a lot with parishes. Some of them have been happy, some of them not so happy,” said Bishop Bruce. “But they’re all memories and you…take them with you.”
The visit to the parish of St. James, in Kemptville, Ont., was especially memorable. At the end of a confirmation service, the confirmants, ages 12 to 14, had surprised him with a musical performance, which brought tears to his eyes.
Seeing young people in church, when most news reports are writing off any growth within the Anglican Church of Canada never fails to give Bishop Bruce a boost. He considers the mentorship of young men and women who have gone into priesthood “the most rewarding” aspect of his nearly nine years as bishop.
“I’ve been able to ordain a lot of young people and everybody says the young are leaving the church,” said Bishop Bruce. “We have a number of young clergy who are just exciting people. No challenges are too big for them to take. They’re not jaded, like some of us old people, [who say], ‘well, we’ve tried that and it didn’t work.’ They’re willing to give that a go…”
Bishop Bruce knew it was time to retire because the diocese had launched a new strategic planning process. “That requires a lot of energy. I’ll be 69 this year and I’m starting to get a bit tired,” he said. “So, I said, ‘fine, it’s time to go and let someone have the opportunity to lead the diocese.” [An election for co-adjutor bishop has been scheduled on Feb. 12.)
If his successor were to seek his advice about heading the diocese of Ontario, Bishop George Bruce said he would say, tongue in cheek, “blame it on your predecessor.”
Kidding aside, however, Bishop Bruce said he would tell him or her that “when things don’t seem to be going too well and there are people who are angry and upset, remember you’re still there to love them.” It is a hard but important lesson, but ultimately, “they’re all seeking to do God’s will and sometimes people express it in different ways, in ways perhaps that you wouldn’t do it, or you wish they wouldn’t do it.”
One of the most challenging aspects of his job has been the lack of understanding that Anglicans have about how their church is governed and at what level decisions are made, said Bishop Bruce. “It’s a generalism, but, there is a deficit in the understanding of Church. There’s also a real deficit on people’s understanding of Scripture,” he said. “There should be greater emphasis on adult Christian education and thankfully, I’m seeing that in a lot of places.”
By the time he retires on Aug. 31, Bishop Bruce, who first served a career in the Canadian Forces, would have completed 24 years of church ministry. He was ordained in the diocese of Ottawa in 1987 and became rector of congregations in Ottawa, Winchester, Chesterville, Crysler, South Mountain and Perth, Ont. He became dean of St. George’s Cathedral, diocese of Ontario, and two years later, became its bishop.
Bishop Bruce has also been actively involved at the church’s national level, serving at the Council of General Synod, and as a member of the faith, worship and ministry committee. Before he retires, he has promised the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, that he would complete the task of preparing study materials, which dioceses can use as they examine the final text of the proposed Covenant for the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Bruce has some ideas that will keep him preoccupied at retirement. “I like to read and tell stories, so I may put some of my children’s stories into a book. If nobody reads them it doesn’t make a difference. I’ll still have fun putting them together,” he said.
Travel is on the list of priorities. “My wife (Theo) and I would have been married 46 years once I retired. She has followed me around the country both when I was in the Army and then while working for the church. I think she deserves the time and attention, she’s certainly earned it,” he said.
There are also four grandchildren, two of whom he and Theo are raising, who will keep them busy.
Asked whether he had any message for Anglicans across Canada, Bishop Bruce said: “Anglicans are good at arguing and debating; we could address those if we simply got on in proclaiming the gospel, looking after the poor, the needy and the sick, and remembering that it’s God who is in charge, not us.”