Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. faith community grieves death of Anglican Bishop Geoffrey Peddle

The head of the Anglican Church in Eastern Newfoundland died Thursday, leaving family, friends and colleagues across denominations in mourning.
Bishop Geoffrey Peddle died Thursday. He had been the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador since 2014. (Anglican Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador/Facebook)

The death of the leader of the Anglican Church in Eastern Newfoundland has left family, friends and colleagues across faiths in mourning for a man who celebrated his church and pushed it forward amid internal debates and difficult times.

Bishop Geoffrey Peddle died Thursday, according to Archdeacon Sam Rose in a Facebook post addressed to the Anglican Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador.

Peddle was well known throughout the province for speaking on contemporary issues facing both the Anglican Church and the world at large, from same-sex marriage to the closing of churches to the treatment of prisoners.

"He was visionary in a number of ways, I think," said Mark Nichols, an Anglican priest who served in the diocese for 15 years.

Born in Bonavista, Peddle's lengthy vocational career began in 1987, with the last seven of them spent as bishop. He presided over the church during such tumult as the vote to allow same-sex marriage, an issue he personally endorsed in 2016 and came into being in the diocese in 2019.

"I think he opened the door for us to be more inclusive. He was willing to deal with the flak that he would deal with, any time you're making such a monumental change," said Nichols.

Nichols, who is also a social justice activist, said even despite Peddle's personal vote for equality, Peddle maintained a sense of responsibility and duty to everyone in the Anglican Church.

"He always insisted that we had to bring everybody forward together. We had to find a way for people of differing views to be together," said Nichols.

Push for justice

Peddle also sought to unite different faiths. The executive minister of the United Church for Atlantic Canada said despite being from a different denomination, Peddle was often only a phone call away when advice was needed from a fellow leader. 

"I'll miss my friend. Many times we had conversations, because it can be a lonely place when you're leading a denomination," said Rev. Faith March-MacCuish.

I'll be reflecting on his gentleness and his kindness, and I know that death doesn't take that away.- Faith March-MacCuish

March-MacCuish first crossed paths with Peddle in 1993 as they served in their respective parishes in Mount Pearl, and in the decades since, as each gained more responsibility in their roles, she said, Peddle never lost his personal touch.

"I found him to be a gentle soul, is how I described him. And yet at the same time, when he was passionate about something that he knew was right and just, then he would certainly go to bat for that too," she said. 

"He wouldn't just walk away from that or be too gentle and kind that he couldn't stand up for justice."

Nichols said Peddle's hallmarks of leadership and willingness to engage publicly on tough topics have created a lasting legacy.

"He was trying to get the church to be more outward-looking, to get beyond the walls of our congregation, to not just be about ourselves but to get out there in the broader world," he said.

Peddle was often only a phone call away for advice in challenging or lonely times, said both Mark Nicols and Faith March-MacCuish. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Family grieves

Peddle was set to retire at the end of the year, having announced his intention to do so in a letter to the diocese in August.

His own father had recently died, along with the birth of his first grandchild, and in the candid and personal letter Peddle reflected, "with all that has happened in such a short period of time, I feel that the landscape of my life has been reshaped in ways that I cannot yet measure."

The diocese declined to speak to CBC News on Friday.

Peddle leaves behind his wife, Kathy, and two sons, along with his extended family and friends.

March-MacCuish said she, like many others, will be spending time remembering him as she reflects and grieves.

"I'll be reflecting on his gentleness and his kindness, and I know that death doesn't take that away," she said.

A difficult era

Peddle helmed the church through an era of upheaval, marked with declining membership and financial struggles. The diocese has put its synod office up for sale in an effort to alleviate its financial issues, compounded by the pandemic.

March-MacCuish said Peddle handled being leader through a time that meant deciding on issues like closing and consolidating churches "with much grace," even as it took a personal toll.

 "I know that was a hard journey for him, and those decisions had to be made, but he handled it very well," she said.

This is the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John's. (CBC)

Peddle leaves behind "pretty big shoes" to fill, Nichols said.

"He was, I think, a strong leader as bishop. He worked so hard to keep people together, so hopefully whoever is elected as our next bishop will be able to continue in those footsteps."

March MacCuish said she empathized with the pain of not only his family, but the congregation and church administration.

"They're grieving, deeply, this loss, and yet they still have to now step into the role and lead, and so that's most difficult," she said.

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