Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

+Bruce Gilberd Tribute

Funeral tribute to Bishop Bruce Gilberd from Major Campbell Roberts of the Salvation Army.

Campbell Roberts  |  16 Feb 2024

We could write a book, couldn't we, about Bruce? As I share my conversation with Bruce this morning, I invite you in your mind to have your discussion with Bruce.

Bruce, my dear friend, confidant, and mentor, I, along with many of your other friends, will miss you.

To drive into beautiful Tairua, pull up outside the home that was the Oasis for you and Pat, walk in, and then be greeted by you on your balcony with a warm smile, a cheeky comment and a welcoming hug made us feel as though we were the most important person in the world.  And, of course, to you, we were at that moment.

I visited you and Pat one afternoon with friends from England, Annette and Phil.  They only met you once but say you both changed their lives that afternoon.

After the visit, we all travelled back to Auckland in the car.  Annette shared with us how often she felt excluded in a conversation with men, but that afternoon, she said, “Bruce made me feel the most important person in the room with a valuable contribution to make.”  The remarkable thing as the conversation expanded was that everyone in the car, male or female, felt the same as Annette.   What an extraordinary thing when you make people feel like that.

Phil and Annette texted me yesterday and said that, to this day, they realise there is a need to listen when in a situation. They say to each other, “Let's be more Bruce and Pat.

Bruce, you had a rare and beautiful gift of inclusion and making people feel valued.  So many people in the world desperately need that gift.  You gave it out in abundance.

Walking to post one of your books of prayers to someone who had requested a copy, you came across a somewhat fearsome Tane putting a little moko into the car.  You stopped and said to him, “You have got the most cute and beautiful child. That led to a conversation where he told you this was his first trip out with his daughter after being in prison for five years. As you stood in the gutter on the main street of Tairua, he shared with you his hopes and plans to lead a different life.  

You said to him. I am just going to the Post Office to send this book I have written.  But I would like to give it to you to help you recover.  He replied, “Do you mind if I hug you? “Bruce, I have a mind picture of what occurred; this rather large Tane embraces you. It reminds me of why you were so loved by so many of us.

Human life has been made richer by those people prepared to look for new solutions for old problems, people willing to test the boundaries of common wisdom, and people designed to be pioneers of new thinking and action.

Bruce at a time when the church in New Zealand was fixated on ministry to home and family denominationally.  You ventured out to the Teesside Industrial mission to learn how a Christian ministry could be to workplaces and the institutions of unions, industry, commerce and business. You then returned with Richard Randerson to enthuse Roman Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Quaker, Presbyterian, and Salvation Army clergy to work with you on the Interchurch Trade and Industry Mission. 

 I will never forget the thrill and excitement of you shaping a theology and ministry, a mission in a real-life place where crucial decisions were made daily, where people earned a living and spoke a language that previously had not been heard in a church setting.   You were an innovator and pioneer, and you saved the ministry of countless of us who had struggled with a church focused on the domestic part of people's lives.

You also enriched the lives of many lay Christians from management and unions. People who felt the church had nowhere to talk and discuss the things that consumed the more significant part of their lives. Issues of productivity, industrial relations, use of resources, industrial democracy, conflict, and worker participation.

Over the years, you have provided me with spiritual mentoring. The time I most looked forward to in those sessions was when we went for a walk together around Tairua.   On these walks, I learned how energising the creation was in your life. Whether it was the waves crashing on the beach, the various birds or fish you drew my attention to off the bridge, plants, trees or exciting formations. I also learned to appreciate and draw strength from the energy you gained from creation.  I saw your delight in simplicity and how an uncluttered life made you strong. Often, we joked about your necessity for a notebook and your phone (which I think was a museum piece, most probably the first mobile phone Nokia ever made) and then by necessity, the iPhone15, the latest iPad and laptop with 24/7 Wireless connection enhanced by the most updated writing and communication software.  Somehow, you wrote more meaningful things than ever and communicated in depth with more people than I ever managed.

For years, I struggled to understand prayer.   Prayer and meditation seemed not worth the effort when there was so much to do to improve this world. Through watching you, working with you and being mentored by you, I learnt that a life of prayer was not only possible, but it was also essential if you were about social justice because what I learnt from you was you could only bring social justice if you lived justly, and prayer was the key.

Remarkably, Bruce, as your influence deepened me spiritually, it also brought me more delight in my humanity.

 I remember going in a yacht for the first time, your little one-person vessel out on the Tairua harbour.  I was slightly uncertain because I had heard bad stories about the Tairua Bar. Suddenly, without a word, you dive off the boat, and I am short on my own without any knowledge of how a yacht works.   The reason for the dive soon became apparent as you swam back to the boat with a large John Dory in your hand that you had noticed sunbathing on the surface.  You had an infectious enjoyment of life, whether playing 500, watching a movie, reading a book, eating good food, socialising with friends, or watching rugby. 

Pat, Catherine, Stephen, and Paul, what we have lost in our lives at Bruce's passing is so tiny compared to your loss, and our love is with you.  Thank you for sharing Bruce with us.  Pat, it is impossible to think of Bruce without thinking of you, for you were as one, and my tribute today is paralleled in you because knowing Bruce meant we all got to share in your equally beautiful and natural gifts and friendship.

I preached recently about the necessity for us to be saints in 2024.   I used as examples of what Sainthood looked like three people I had worked with who had died in the last month. Bruce, Cardinal Tom Williams, and a colleague, a Salvation Army officer. The chara cteristics of sainthood I outlined were

1) Saints are filled with the love of God

2) Saints love and hold precious all people

3) Saints are risk-takers.

4) Saints are people of humility.

5) Saints are people of prayer.

6) Saints are people of rich humanity.

7) Saints are people of their time and context.

Bruce showed each of these characteristics throughout his life. 

Saint Bruce, thank you for all you have contributed to us.