POLYNESIA: Jabez Bryce, communion's longest-serving bishop, dies at 75

February 11, 2010

Archbishop Jabez Bryce, bishop of the Diocese of Polynesia, has died peacefully Feb. 11 at Suva Private Hospital in Fiji. He was 75.

Bryce had led the Diocese of Polynesia for almost 35 years and was, at time of his death, the longest-serving bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In 2006, he also was chosen as one of the three leaders of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia – the far-flung province which includes Anglicans in New Zealand, and in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa.

Bryce was born in Vavau, in Tonga, in January 1935, but grew up in Samoa.

He trained in Auckland and was ordained priest in 1962. In 1975, he was ordained as bishop, and he led the Diocese of Polynesia from a colonial past -- his predecessors had all been either British or Australian -- into a genuinely Pacific present.

His stature, seniority and leadership in the church in the Pacific was recognized in August 2008 when he was chosen to crown the new Tongan King, His Majesty King George Tupou V.

Bryce was keenly focused on the mission of the church, and this bore fruit in 2005 when he led the diocese to choose three assistant bishops -- an indigenous Fijian, an Indo-Fijian, and a Tongan who lives in New Zealand -- to strengthen the outreach of the diocese in its various regions and islands.

In 2008, he also presided over the centenary celebrations of the diocese, which he'd led for fully one-third of its life.

He was, by reason of his birth, almost uniquely equipped to do that: his mother was Tongan, his father had Samoan and Scottish heritage, while he had lived in Fiji since 1960.

Archbishop David Moxon, the senior bishop of the New Zealand dioceses, had known Bryce for 40 years. Moxon said that during Bryce's time "the Diocese of Polynesia has grown in a hundred ways -- in its sense of identity, its ethnic diversity and in its 'Pacificness.'"

And Archbishop Brown Turei, the third of the leaders of the church, describes Bryce as "a prince of the church. A man who was dignified, kindly, who liked things done decently and in order -- because that reflected what the church meant to him."

Throughout his priesthood and episcopacy, Bryce was also a keen ecumenist, building bridges between the various Christian denominations in the Pacific. He served the Pacific Conference of Churches for many years and was a president of the Pacific region of the World Council of Churches.

In those roles he also spoke out for the wider good of the Pacific -- for instance, advocating for the ending of French nuclear bomb testing at Mururoa Atoll in the 1970s.

Bryce also was a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue in Fiji.

Moxon says he will always recall the "grace, strength and energy of the man. Bryce leaves so much to value and treasure behind him; and he will be honored and remembered for a long time as the greatest of the bishops of Polynesia."

Bryce is survived by his wife Tilisi and their two children, Jonathan and Fitaloa.

The funeral service will be held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Suva on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 10.30 a.m.

The funeral gathering (reguregu) will be on Tuesday and Wednesday (Feb. 16 and 17) in the grounds of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A memorial service will be held at St. Mary's in Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, on Sunday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. This will be a Eucharist service at which the Rt. Rev. Winston Halapua, bishop for the Diocese of Polynesia in Aotearoa New Zealand, will preside.

-- Lloyd Ashton is media officer to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.