Bruce McLeod with ECAA President Ann Fleming Emm 9T5
On May 14, 2009, Bruce McLeod Emm 5T0 became the inaugural recipient of the Emmanuel College Distinguished Alumni/ae Award, an honour bestowed upon a graduate whose vision and leadership have distinguished him or herself through extraordinary and exemplary ministry to the church, the academy or society-at-large. He holds a doctor of divinity from Victoria University, a doctor of laws from the University of Toronto, an Award of Merit from the Associated Church Press for his contributions to the United Church Observer, and the Al-Ehsan Award for Human Dignity by the Council of the Muslim Community of Canada.
Bruce McLeod describes his first forays into the world of theology as “sort of stumbling in, and there I was.” At the time of his graduation from U of T, there was a shortage of ministers. That combined with the model of McLeod’s own minister at Deer Park United Church, suggested to him that theology might be something to try. He’s taken pleasure in his choice ever since.
McLeod particularly enjoyed the time he spent with a congregation, speaking out the good news of Christianity in relation to the modern day. “I always had in mind that there might be a person in church that day who had never been before and might be a bit skeptical. I was a bit skeptical myself at first. I loved the opportunity to address them and me. I think if I hadn’t had the responsibility of preaching every Sunday, my own faith may not have grown.”
In time, McLeod’s ministry extended beyond the pulpit. His leadership in the church and the community demonstrated through his service as Moderator of The United Church of Canada—at the time of his appointment in 1972, he was the youngest person ever elected to this office; and through involvement with the Canadian Council of Churches; World Council of Churches Eminent Persons teams; World Conference on Religion and Peace, Canada, an inter-faith forum for Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and other faiths; Coalition Against the Return of the Death Penalty; and Ontario Human Rights Commission, among many other organizations.
In the 1980s, and well into the 1990s, McLeod frequently served as an international observer or monitor in such places as Honduras, Ethiopia, Taiwan, Haiti, Bangkok and Zimbabwe. He also became a regular columnist for the Toronto Star (from 1985 to1993), writing about social and international issues, and at times covering late-breaking news.
During his days as a theological student, McLeod enjoyed the academic part of preparing for ministry and, after Emmanuel, completed a doctor of theology at Union Seminary in New York. For him, academia felt as if a theological conversation was taking place with the rest of the world. “To say anything about God’s world you have to know what God’s world is about,” he says, “and we need to be ready to change our minds and listen to what people of what other faiths are saying. There’s always a danger in settling down too soon and getting comfortable.” That intent to stimulate conversation with the world motivated his teaching, in part, while serving as an adjunct professor of practical theology at Emmanuel College (1982-1981), and is underscored by an impressive list of publications: several books and numerous articles, in such journals as the Princeton Review, Christian Century and Theology Today, among others.
Through it all, McLeod remained a minister. “The pastor has the opportunity to be there when nobody knows what to do. To be with people, to hold them, and be held by them in return, is the best thing in the world."