George Lemmon remembered for compassion, evangelism as bishop of Fredericton
From his time as a parish priest through his tenure as the seventh Anglican bishop of Fredericton from 1989 to 2000, George Lemmon’s ministry consistently focused on making time for others.
“He was always known in the diocese as ‘the late George Lemmon,’ ” remembers Canon John Cathcart, who as a lay reader first met Lemmon when the latter was serving as rector of Christ Church (Parish) Church in Fredericton. “He was always running late,” Cathcart adds. “But the reason for that was he always had time for people.”
Lemmon, who died on May 22 at the age of 90 after a period of deteriorating health, is being remembered as an eager evangelist whose love for others was returned by many within his diocese.
Retired bishop Bill Hockin served for two years as coadjutor bishop with Lemmon and then as the eighth bishop of Fredericton. He describes Lemmon as “a man of personal [and] evangelical renewal” who was strongly supportive of the Cursillo program, which focuses on teaching laypeople to become effective Christian leaders over a three-day retreat.
“He was a man of faith … a Christian through and through, an evangelical too,” Hockin says. “He had travelled the diocese a lot. He enjoyed being on the road more than in the office.”
For more than 10 years, Lemmon wrote a weekly column in Fredericton’s local newspaper The Daily Gleaner, which made him familiar across New Brunswick outside Anglican circles.
“He certainly was known and loved by the people,” Hockin says. Lemmon’s Daily Gleaner column “dominated the church page, along with all of the ads. To have an Anglican bishop there doing that, that was interesting.” Lemmon “promoted the church and the faith, and he was well-known for that.”
Born in Saint John, N.B., Lemmon graduated from high school in 1949. While serving a six-year apprenticeship to take over his father’s printing business, he began teaching Sunday school, took post-confirmation classes, started an interdenominational youth group and became a lay reader. He then returned to high school for Grade 13 to attend university.
Lemmon graduated from the University of New Brunswick in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in history and economics before pursuing graduate studies at Wycliffe College. Ordained as a deacon in 1962, he returned to New Brunswick to serve in the parish of Canterbury. As a parish priest he served in Florenceville, Renforth, Sackville, and finally Fredericton.
John Cathcart—now an honourary assistant at St. Thomas’ Church in St. Catharines, Ont.— vividly recalls the impact of Lemmon’s preaching on him at Christ Church (Parish) Church in Fredericton.
“The one thing that stands out about George, he was very much down to earth,” Cathcart says. “Very, very approachable. His preaching really stood [out] for me. Every Sunday when I would listen to him preach, it was almost like he was talking directly to me.”
Near the end of one sermon, Lemmon asked a question to his congregation: “Are you the same person on the Monday morning as you claim to be on the Sunday morning?”
Cathcart, then in his late 30s, recalls, “I wasn’t.” He adds, “When George preached that sermon asking the question … it challenged me to get my Christian life in order and my prayer life in order.” As bishop, Lemmon later presided over Cathcart’s own ordination.
One of Lemmon’s key initiatives as a parish priest was his spearheading of the Cornerstone Project, a program for children who did not have parental supervision after school. Cornerstone opened up a building on the property of Christ Church (Parish) Church that children and youth could go to after school and receive Christian teaching.
Phyllis Cathcart, John’s wife and executive assistant to Lemmon throughout his episcopacy, says Lemmon “was really happy [with the Cornerstone Project]. That was a big thing for that to happen, because nothing had really been going on like that in Fredericton.”
She remembers the synod office as “a very happy office to be in” and Lemmon himself as spiritual, compassionate and easy to get along with.
“He was a very caring person … He would tell you himself he wasn’t an administrator,” she says of Lemmon. “He liked to be out with the people in the parishes.”
The Rev. Mary Anne Langmaid, currently rector at the Parish of St. George, carries with her to this day advice that Lemmon gave her when they started a youth group together at Christ Church (Parish) Church: “All I want you to do is be their friend.”
That idea of loving people is a message Langmaid took into her own ministry when she was ordained. “He was just very supportive and I loved his heart,” she says of Lemmon. “He loved Jesus and he loved people.”
A May 2015 article in the New Brunswick Anglican describes Lemmon as known for “welcoming female priests at a time when not all clergy backed him on the issue.” While Langmaid was one of the first women ordained in the diocese of New Brunswick as a deacon, she views Lemmon’s support for female priests as a reflection of his inclusive nature.
“He was just very supportive to everyone,” she says.
Lemmon is survived by his wife Lois and their three children, eight grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Memorial tributes can be made to the Alzheimer’s Society or to the Anglican Diocese of Fredericton.