By R A B (Tony) Snowsill.
Jabez Leslie Bryce was born in Vava’u Tonga in 1935 of mixed Scottish-Samoan-Tongan parentage. He was reared in Samoa, and trained for the ministry in New Zealand. Ordained in 1962, he served the diocese in Fiji throughout his ordained ministry.
The first Pacific Islander elected as Bishop of Polynesia, The Episcopal Church, Archbishop Bryce led the Diocese of Polynesia for almost 35 years – and he was, at time of his death, the longest-serving bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion. He led the Diocese of Polynesia from a colonial past – his predecessors had all been either British or Australian – into a genuinely Pacific present. He lived in Fiji since 1960 and died in Suva in 2010 aged 75.
I knew the onetime Rev Bryce several times in my life. Firstly when I lived in Nadi in 1971 (working at Nadi Travelodge) and when he was the Anglican minister resident in Lautoka. One of my work colleagues contracted a particular illness and there was no extra-hospital respite care available for this then youngster from Melbourne. Rev Bryce had only met this young man on his rounds of the Lautoka hospital. Jabez took him in to the Lautoka rectory and together with his house staff nursed my colleague back to health over a long period of time.
To share Jabez Bryce’s company at the meal table was a treat. Jabez, and his few staff, were excellent cooks and his modest/humble locally orientated meals were always cooked and presented with a particular generosity and style and tasted just as they should if not better. He enjoyed his taro!
As a conversationalist (and as a teacher/leader/mentor/facilitator/innovator) Jabez was always able to lift one’s spirit and enthuse and inspire one to achieve at a higher level.
Jabez continually truly demonstrated all the traits of a true and committed Christian. Rev Bryce was a revelation, and, as a young man then myself, I often, after my first association with him, thought what his guidance might be when different situations arose in my later life.
We quickly developed a special acquaintance and I later met with him in Suva and Pacific Habour Resort. Again when I moved to Korolevu – Paradise Point – he would sometimes drop in for tea on his trips around the island.
Bishop Jabez Bryce was a gentle man – mild with refined manners and a soft disposition and an inherent ability to sooth, moderate and pacify angst, anger, upset or derision. He had what was a noble manner about him. As Bishop Bryce he was the healer that the Anglican Church needed at that time to recondition the Anglican Church in the South Pacific and gently lead it back to some prominence in the South Pacific. The church had, as I understand it, seemingly lost its way and was embroiled in all manner of folly or misdirection when Jabez Bryce took over.
Those who appointed Jabez Bryce to the position demonstrated insight of the highest discernment! They were found to have engaged a man of wisdom and judgment and one who would not be trifled with.
Jabez Bryce’s appointment as the Bishop of Polynesia was met with some angry hysteria within the South Pacific’s mainly “Anglican world”. Few knew him, or of him, and his remarkable “healing” abilities. One detected a certain jealously that his appointment brought about from many quarters of the Anglican Church in the South Pacific – or was this only my perception? Despite this, one should know that Jabez Bryce always demonstrated all the traits of a committed Christian. He was later elevated to Archbishop of Polynesia.
Further contact with Rev Jabez Bryce also came via my mother’s 1971 marriage to Dr George Hemming (Anglican minister for St Luke’s Church at Laucala Bay, Suva) and my residing at Dr Hemming’s House at Laucala Bay for extended periods. He was affectionately called “The Bish” in that house as were his predecessors. “The Bish” has proclaimed or done this and that – decided that so in so must occur.
Many were surprised when, after Jabez Bryce’s appointment as the Bishop of Polynesia , I said in casual conversation – Oh yes I know him – quite well – he is a good and Godly man – a capable and admirable man who quietly goes about God’s work and achieves much. Given my behaviour at that young age there was some surprise and possible indignation that I even knew him as I recall.
Jabez Bryce was a valued speaker at many a conference or convention not only for the deep and meaningful content of his speeches but for the wisdom and wit that also emanated from such presentations. He was an approachable and at the same times a humble man.
Jabez Bryce did not only preach the good word but he practiced God’s words. Jabez Bryce was kind, considerate, selfless and “did unto others as he would have done to oneself”. Then again, this was not really achievable because he did more than one might expect.
Jabez Bryce has gone to God – to God’s house.
We of the South Pacific have lost an esteemed leader, a valuable and committed guide who gave valuable counsel and direction to many followers and others alike and our society is diminished at his passing.
Entry By: R A B (Tony) Snowsill, Chatswood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia with great respect and affection – February 2010
1 Chronicles 4:9-10 (New International Version)
Jabez was more honourable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.