By Gisele McKnight
Profound sadness has surrounded the news of the passing of Archbishop Harold Lee Nutter, 93, in Perth, Ontario, Sept. 9.
Bishop Nutter was the sixth bishop of the diocese from 1971-1989 and the first to be born in New Brunswick. He served as archbishop of the Province of Canada from 1980-89.
His death is being met with much reminiscing of the man whose kindness, graciousness and pastoral nature have become his legacy.
“Bishop Harold Nutter was much beloved in the Diocese of Fredericton and beyond,” said Bishop David Edwards. “There are many stories of his kindness and down-to-earth manner from people across the Province.
“I received a message from one of his successors as Metropolitan of Canada who told of a visit for dinner by Bishop Nutter. There was concern in the house, because such an important man was visiting. After supper Harold took off his jacket and helped with the washing up. From that time forward he was the “favourite bishop” in that home.
“Such an action was typical of Harold. He will be greatly missed by many people. Please pray for Edith and the family at this time.”
Bishop George Lemmon, whose episcopacy followed Bishop Nutter’s, remembers an intelligent, humble man who always listened.
“His genius was that he not only listened, but he knew what to do,” said Bishop Lemmon. “He had a tremendous gift of discernment. He heard it all, analysed it and threw out a couple of statements that were right on the button.”
Sometimes, one of the statements was, ‘what do you think?’ giving the visitor the opportunity to work out the right course of action.
Bishop Lemmon said at the time, the diocese was trying to find its place, and Bishop Nutter gave it direction, including the need to return to the real foundational issues.
“He got the diocese on a more spiritual level, to submit to the Lord, a lot of praying and surrendering,” said Bishop Lemmon. “He was patient enough, too.”
His advice to Bishop Lemmon as he succeeded him was to the point: “You’ll fly by the seat of your pants!”
“He would call it as it is,” said Bishop Lemmon. “He was the model for what a good bishop is.”
Archdeacon Harold Hazen has fond memories of Bishop Nutter, from the time Hazen was a divinity student, to their retirements many years later.
Bishop Nutter married Archdeacon Hazen and his wife in 1958 at Stone Church (St. Marks) in Saint John, and in 1985, chose the archdeacon to be his executive assistant.
“We got along well,” said the archdeacon. “It worked out very well. He was the best boss you could find.
“He left a lot of stuff up to me. If I couldn’t handle it, he got involved. We used to meet for 15 minutes every morning.”
Archdeacon Hazen uses one word to describe Bishop Nutter: kind.
Father Gerry Laskey and his wife, Siobhan, have a special connection to the bishop. He baptized their son, Sean, and 11 years later, he buried Sean, while the Laskeys served in the Parish of Gagetown. But the connection goes even further.
“He confirmed me, ordained me and placed me in my first two parishes,” said Fr. Laskey.
As well, when Fr. Laskey was reunited with his birth mother, he discovered that she had stood up with Edith Nutter at Edith’s wedding to Harold.
Above all, said Siobhan, Bishop Nutter had an intimate understanding of his role, his duties and his people.
“He knew his people,” she said. “One of the great strengths of any bishop is to know your people, your clergy and your parishes, and be their chief pastor. He had that.”
Fr. Laskey fondly remembers feeling at home whenever he was in the bishop’s office, even as a divinity student.
“He always made time for you,” he said. “You never got the sense that he was rushing you. There was never anything more important to him than you being in front of him.”
His episcopacy saw a great deal of change and turmoil, both in the church and in the world. At first he did not support the ordination of women, but he softened that position over the years.
While he did not ordain any women candidates, he did “clear the way for such ordinations by his successor in accepting Patricia Brittain and Elizabeth Northcott as candidates for Holy Orders, and licensing a woman priest, the Rev. Brenda McKnight,” says a Synod document.
“I think Harold himself was very cautious. Not that he himself disapproved, but many parishes were not ready for it,” said his wife, Edith in a previous interview. Because of the strong opinions, the process had to be gradual, she said.
Bishop Nutter also presided over the addition of the Book of Alternative Services, another divisive issue that took time to settle.
He was a very busy bishop, particularly on the regional, national and even international levels. He visited South Africa twice during the height of apartheid. He hosted meetings of the General Synod in 1983 at the University of New Brunswick.
He also established the diocesan archives, which is housed at the Public Archives of New Brunswick. He served as vice-president of the Canadian Bible Society. He was the Legislative Assembly’s chaplain for four years. He served briefly as acting primate after Archbishop Ted Scott’s resignation in 1986.
He is survived by his wife, Edith, a son, the Rev. Bruce; a daughter, Patricia and two grandsons.
Visitation will be in Christ Church Cathedral on Wednesday, Sept.13, from 7- 9 p.m. The funeral service will be in Christ Church Cathedral on Thursday, Sept. 14 at 11 a.m. A reception will follow the service at Cathedral Memorial Hall. Committal will be at Christ Church, Woodstock, on Friday.
In lieu of flowers, donations to the Christ Church Cathedral Restoration Fund or the Primate’s World Relief Fund would be appreciated.