Archbishop Bryce, who was 75, had 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.
In 2006 he was also chosen as one of the three leaders of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia – the far-flung Anglican “province” which includes Anglicans in New Zealand, and in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa.
Jabez Leslie Bryce was born in Vavau, in Tonga, in January 1935, but grew up in Samoa.
He went to Auckland to train for the ministry, 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 recognised in August 2008 when he was chosen to crown the new Tongan King, His Majesty King George Tupou V.
Archbishop Jabez was keenly focussed 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 himself had lived in Fiji since 1960.
Archbishop David Moxon, the senior bishop of the New Zealand dioceses, had known Archbishop Jabez for 40 years. He says that during Archbishop Jabez’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 Archbishop Jabez simply 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, Archbishop 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.
He was also a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue in Fiji.
Archbishop David Moxon says he will always recall the “grace, strength and energy of the man.
“Jabez leaves so much to value and treasure behind him; and he will be honoured and remembered for a long time as the greatest of the Bishops of Polynesia.”
Archbishop Jabez’s health had been failing for some time, and he died peacefully in the Suva Private Hospital on Thursday evening.
He 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.
Article by : Lloyd Ashton media officer to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.