This is the original text of Tom's sermon.
To hear how Tom actually preached it, please click here!
Homily given by The Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Bowers, celebrating the life of the Rev. Bruce Willard Forbes, who served as a priest for more than fifty years
St. Bartholomew's Church, N.Y.C.
October 5, 2016 at 6:00 p.m.
The Rt. Rev. Andrew M. L. Dietsche, Bishop of New York, presided at the Eucharist
We are here this evening to celebrate the life of Bruce Willard Forbes who served as a priest in this parish for more than fifty years.
He served under four rectors during that period of time.
Bruce was, indeed, a true servant of our Lord through all of those fifty years.
During that time, the world, this nation, this city, and this church went through many changes, but he was the one person during all of that time who never ceased to do those things which made Christ present in the life of this ongoing community.
Bruce's chief ministry in our Parish was directly to the numerous members who were shut-in or ill, whether in their homes, hospitals, or nursing facilities throughout all the boroughs of New York.
He was their constant link not only with our Lord, but with the Parish family itself.
He took Holy Communion to them, listened to them, prayed with them, loved them, and in most cases, buried them.
When one of those under his care died, he would ask me if I wished to do the funeral, but in almost all cases, I said, "Bruce, you are their pastor and you should do the funeral. I will assist you if you wish."
The truth is, he really liked to do each of those funerals all by himself, without me.
Quite often there was no one present in the Chapel except one or two members of the deceased and, often, a lawyer.
When Bruce presided and gave the homily, you would think that all of the hosts of heaven were present and many old dear friends of the deceased were filling the pews.
What amazed me was that he not only knew those he ministered to, but also sought to literally know every person in the Parish and made an effort to learn each member's name. As he said to me on many occasions, "This parish is my family. It is the only family I have."
One day early in my time here, I received a phone call from Chicago and the gentleman who spoke to me asked if I would personally tell Bruce that his brother had died. I, of course, said I would.
When I went to his office to give him this news early in the morning, he had just finished reading the New York Times which he did every day, after having walked from his home to the Parish.
I told Bruce that I had sad news for him, that his brother in Chicago had died peacefully sitting in his favorite chair in his apartment.
It was at this time that Bruce told me a little bit about his family.
His father and mother had died many years ago and he did not know his brother very well. They seldom saw each other or communicated. This was because his brother was quite a bit older than he was and was out of their home soon after Bruce was born. Now, Bruce was alone.
When he returned from the funeral and other affairs he had to take care of on behalf of his brother, he told me once again, "This parish is my family. It is the only family I have."
We had a number of clergy on our staff during the late 80's. Then, within a short period of time, three of them told me that they were being offered new opportunities in different parts of the country.
These three, I called my "race horses" (though they never knew that I thought of them that way): Bill Roberts, Fred Northup, and Andrew Mullins. By the way, Andrew Mullins is here today. There he is!
One by one they came into my office and told me they had a new opportunity and we're going to "take it," and that was the right thing for them to do, because they needed to seek to have their own parishes.
Then, on top of that, the Rev. Judy Baumer came into my office and began to weep because she knew that she was Number 4.
She told me she had been offered an opportunity to be Priest in Charge of St. George's Church right here in New York City (the church which, many years before, had a senior warden by the name of J.P. Morgan, who was the one responsible for starting the Church Pension Fund for the Episcopal Church when he saw the desperate situation his own rector and his wife were in after he had a stroke while preaching a sermon, but that's a whole other story. God bless J.P. Morgan).
But St. George's at that time had fallen into some very difficult times, and Judy felt she could not refuse this opportunity. I told her I understood and agreed with her, and assured her that somehow we, Bruce and I, would survive.
After all of these clergy had left, Bruce and I had several meetings and we decided that we could continue the life and ministry of this parish, with God's help.
Many parishioners expressed great concern and stepped forward to help in a number of ways, but I knew that Bruce would continue the most important ministry we had, and that he was God's gift to me because he was not a "racehorse," he was a "workhorse!"
During those years together, we became very close.
I depended on him to continue to cover one of the most vital parts of our parish's ministry.
Bruce certainly helped to hold my life and our church together.
I knew then that he was the very gift God had given me to help in our most difficult moments. He was always there. He was irreplaceable.
One thing I valued most about Bruce was that he told me the truth about me and he told me anything else that was on his mind without worrying about my feelings. He simply just said whatever he thought, always in private.
You cannot find that kind of support except in very rare and exceptional persons. Bruce was one of those.
Obviously, we became very close during those years.
After I left New York, I continued to keep in touch with Bruce by phone and my wife and I always visited with him whenever we were in the city.
When Bruce was relieved of his duties at 92, he was heartbroken, but he continued his ministry, at least by phone, until the end of his life.
He even applied for chaplaincy jobs at a number of hospitals, especially Sloan Kettering, which was very near his home.
This I know, Bruce cherished three things in addition to his pastoral cares: the theater, excellent cuisine, and dancing!
I had no idea that he was such an exquisite dancer until I saw him dancing at a great parish celebration at the Waldorf Astoria.
In those days, we had a yearly parish event with men dressed in tails and tux and there was dancing, dinner, and entertainment. That's where I first saw him dancing!
I also saw him dancing a number of times at wedding celebrations and was always amazed.
It was then I discovered that there were many elderly women in the parish who from time to time asked him to go with them to the theater or to dinner or dancing.
I mention this now because that image comes to me: Bruce, smiling and filled with a kind of joy as I saw it nowhere else.
After my first wife died, I was heartbroken, but became the interim rector of a large church in downtown Austin, Texas.
I thought it would help me with my grief. It did not.
But as I drove around the city, my radio was always on, either to a good music station or to country-western station.
Those were the only choices in Texas that I could find, and I came to see that much of country and western music speaks to the deepest concerns of life. That's why it is so popular.
It was at that time that I heard a song which spoke to me about my life and I think of it now as I see Bruce dancing.
It was called, "I Hope You Dance," and I want to read it to you now because I think this would be Bruce's wish for each of you in your own lives right now.
I Hope You Dance
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed.
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance. I hope you dance.
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances, but they're worth takin'
Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance…… I hope you dance…..
I hope you dance…… I hope you dance…..
I can see Bruce now still dancing and urging you wherever you are in your life to do the same. I really believe that that is Bruce's wish for each of you, no matter where you are in our lives…that we keep on dancing as he did, until the very end.
Thanks be to God.
Note: I hope you dance was written by Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers, and was released in 2000. For more information, please click here.