A Tribute to the Founder of Eremos, Bishop Bruce Wilson


17th June 2021
By Kate Scholl
After a long struggle with cardiac illness, Eremos founder, Bishop Bruce Wilson, died on 20th March aged 78.
After a long struggle with cardiac illness, Eremos founder, Bishop Bruce Wilson, died on 20th March aged 78. We offer our deepest sympathies to his family: Zandra, his wife, their children, Richard and  Anthea, Anthea’s  partner, Kevin, and grandchildren: Thomas, Samuel and Haakon.

There is much to be said about Bruce Wilson and the gift he was to his family and friends, to Eremos, to the Church and to the world. I am grateful to Don Meadows, his close friend of over 60 years and an Eremos collaborator with Bruce, for what he sharedin his eulogy at Bruce’s funeral about his life and legacy.

Bruce was born in 1942 and grew up in Campsie in Sydney. He married Zandra in 1966 and welcomed into the world their son, Richard, in 1967 and daughter, Anthea, in March 1971. Ordained in 1965, he became the Anglican chaplain at the University of NSW in 1970 with the brief of reinvigorating the ministry there, which he did with considerable success.

Eremos beginnings

Don described Bruce’s role in the founding of Eremos as follows:

"It was in 1975 as Rector of St George’s Paddington, Bruce was given the chance to spend time in the UK with Zandra researching people and organizations engaged in contemporary and traditional spirituality. Inspired by this experience, on his return he founded the Eremos Institute to provide an institutional framework for the kind of approach to spirituality he saw as centrally important. It obviously struck a chord with many others in the parish, across the diocese, across denominational boundaries and across the country. Many responded to the retreats, the special events and the quarterly newsletter/magazine, which continue to the present time."

National impact

Bruce’s role in the Anglican church was to extend beyond Sydney. In 1984 Bruce became Director of St Mark’s Theological Centre in Canberra, helping to establish St Mark’s as a major centre of Anglican training. He was also consecrated as bishop, becoming an assistant bishop in Canberra. He went from there to become Bishop of Bathurst in 1989 “where he brought new emphasis on in-service training for the clergy, devolution of authority to the archdeacons and to lay leaders wherever possible, training for lay ministry, astute management of personnel, and an emphasis on the application of theology to life. His role in the National Synod was significant: he was one of the prime movers who enabled the decision to ordain women to the priesthood.”

Rev Dr Colleen O’Reilly’s entry in the guest book of his obituary probably reflects the views of many: “Bishop Bruce Wilson lived (and wrote about) his conviction that the Anglican way should be a welcoming, intelligent and life-giving expression of the Christian faith. His legacy, apart from his family, is the lives of the many people he inspired to embrace a joyous, fruitful membership of the Body of Christ.” SMH Bruce Wilson Obituary

 

Photo from the first MOW National Conference in Sydney in 1985. Bruce and his wife, Zandra, are wearing the early MOW badge and speaking with Reverend Alison Cheek, one of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church in the USA. Thanks to Janet Scarfe for the photo. 

 

It seems almost trite to say that Bruce Wilson was a person of deep faith. For him that meant grappling and wrestling with questions about faith and theology what this meant for the church, for Christians and  the human journey generally. 

I think of Eremos as a fruit of his wrestling. When he spoke of the impetus for Eremos, he expressed it in two aims that reflect his vision for a new spiritual movement:

1. To deepen the spirituality of Christians through sponsoring retreats (the core of the early Eremos movement), and
2. To promote an Australian-context Christian Spirituality.

The journey of the heart’s knowing

Bruce at tableIn his sermon at Bruce’s funeral which was held at the beginning of Holy Week, Rev. Dr. Scott Cowdell offered this insight into Bruce’s faith journey:

"To believe in the resurrection, then, isn’t primarily about sacrificing our modern intelligence with a leap of faith, as Bruce made very clear in his book Reasons of the Heart. Instead, it’s about trusting Jesus, about trusting the journey that leads us to him. It’s about being persuaded that in Jesus our hearts can come home to rest; our critical intelligence can find its fulfillment in a richer, more personal mode of knowing; and our stubbornness can yield at last before a love that’s more stubborn than we could ever be."

Bruce knew this journey of the heart’s knowing. He found it mediated reliably in the Church’s story, in its sacraments, in its saints. And this despite all the cluelessness and mendacity that he was well aware of in the Church, though without ever despairing over it. So, as we take our leave of Bruce, with full and thankful hearts, we can be confident that his lifelong wrestling with God continues to bear fruit in many lives, and we can share with Bruce his secure place in the love of Jesus, as we stand with the Church on Easter Day."

(Photo: Bruce in the Megalong Valley, Blue Mountains, 2017.) 

Deborah Coulthard shared this memory of Bruce and his book, Reasons of the Heart: “I had a profound experience at a silent retreat.  In looking to find words, I picked up Reasons of the Heart from my shelf which was a synchronicity in itself as it was the very book I needed to read.  It talked about the reality of synchronicity and theosophy.  The book comes back to me so often in my work as a psychoanalytic psychologist. 

“It was not easy to track down Bruce but I did and we had an email exchange.  He wondered why it went out of print and so did I.  It is a work that offers a very exciting advance on Christianity and offers meaning through the every day.  I feel so blessed to have found Bruce's work which has opened up so many doors of perception.” 

Intelligence and passion

I conclude this tribute with Don Meadows’ closing remarks:

“I will miss his restless, inquiring intelligence: to borrow a phrase, more than once he aroused me from my dogmatic slumbers. ...But most of all I will miss the deep affection, love and friendship, salted with shrewdness, maturing over the years, which made him irreplaceable. He combined intelligence and passion to a degree I have not often met. He touched the lives of many; the pain of our loss is a measure of the difference he made to us and how much he mattered to us.”

The August edition of EREMOS magazine will have the full text of both Don Meadows’ eulogy and Scott Cowdell’s sermon taken from the funeral of Bishop Bruce Wilson held at St James King Street, Sydney on 29th March. 

To become a member and receive a EREMOS magazine subscription, look for the REGISTER button on this page: https://www.eremos.org.au/membership

 

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