Bruce Keeble – a man of faith and integrity
Bruce, former curate of All Saints’ Church, Chilton, died after a long illness on 7th January 2021. His funeral was a small ceremony attended only by close family (because of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations) at South Oxfordshire Crematorium in Garford.
For many years, Bruce was a familiar figure in the village, walking with his dog or tending his allotment, always willing to stop and talk. Bruce was a very caring man, much involved with pastoral visiting across the benefice, even long after his retirement from parish duties.
The congregations of All Saints’ Chilton and St Matthew’s Harwell very much enjoyed and benefitted from Bruce’s thoughtful and enthusiastic preaching, always aiming to present the message clearly and getting his listeners to think more deeply about God and the message of Jesus. Bruce was also very much involved in home groups and facilitating the preachers’ group, providing guidance and advice as well as theological reflection, bringing scholarly ideas to the meeting.
Bruce was born to missionary parents in Lanchow, China. His parents had gone there with CIM (China Inland Mission), working on a variety of projects, such as famine relief and medical work, and also providing aid to refugees. During the first years of his life, Bruce spoke mainly Chinese and when coming to England for the first time aged five, he had only a very limited English vocabulary.
Bruce’s childhood was overshadowed by WWII. After the Japanese invasion of China, he was held captive in a variety of internment camps, first with the fellow pupils of his boarding school, then with his parents in Shanghai, and finally in the Pootung CAC (civic assembly centre). Life in Pootung was crowded and marked by many deprivations which Bruce describes vividly in his memoirs. Following the Japanese surrender, the camp was liberated, and Bruce together with his mother were on one of the first ships leaving for England. He arrived in Southampton in November 1945.
The experiences during the internment left a deep impression on Bruce and shaped many of his future actions and attitudes. The first issue he faced when coming to England was the need to catch up on years of missed schooling. He was fortunate to be awarded a place at Monkton Combe School which welcomed the children of missionaries and offered remitted fees for them. Whilst at school, Bruce engaged in a number of sports and studied Science subjects for his A-levels. However, when leaving school, he had no idea of what to do next. Being exempt from the then existing National Service on medical grounds, Bruce took an office job, first with the Pensions and National Insurance Office, followed by three years in the ‘Room’ of Lloyds, London. It was during this time that Bruce felt the calling to Christian missionary work. He completed a Divinity Degree at Spurgeon’s College, followed by an MA at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Rushlikon, Switzerland. Before going there, Bruce married Mavis. Bruce was eventually ordained in the Baptist Church and served as pastor, first in Elm Park and then for 16 years in Shirley, Solihull.
This long and successful time in parish ministry was followed by 11 years at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, where Bruce was the first full-time tutor in pastoral training. It was there that Bruce was able shape the training of future church ministers and prepare them for the complexities of public ministry. The position at Regent’s Park College was meant to be temporary in the first instance but was extended to cover more than a decade. However, aged 58 Bruce faced the challenge of finding a new position. He accepted a call by Hillhead Baptist Church, Glasgow, where he spent six years until his retirement in 1998 which brought him and Mavis to Chilton.
Retirement did not mean stepping back from Christian ministry. On the contrary, Bruce got very much involved in the benefice and in his mid-seventies chose to be ordained in the Church of England so that he could preside at the Eucharist and support the local church during the period of vacancy which followed the retirement of the previous Rector.
During the 2010s, Bruce had to withdraw more and more from public ministry because of health reasons. But this did not stop him from continuing with his scholarly and theological interests. He was open to new ideas and willing to revise his own thinking and conviction. As Bruce records in his memoirs the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, 9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. The phrasing suggests that hearing them and continuing to hear them were, for Paul, constantly confirming and transforming. And for me too, God’s persistence in accepting me and calling me to serve Him and others, with all my weaknesses and failings, has become increasingly foundational.”
Bruce is survived by his widow Mavis, their three children, Jane, Kerry and David, and two grandchildren, Emma and Tom, to whom we offer our condolences.
Ref: Keeble, B (2014) Eddies in a Stream, Private memoir (a self-published book for family and friends, rather than a commercially available book)