A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
Memories of Bishop Pike
Ms Amy Abercrombie
The Revd Robert Brueckner
The Revd Dr Kenneth R. Clark
The Revd James R. Crowder
Mr Richard W. Ditewig
The Revd George H. Easter
The Revd William B. Easter
Ms Jean M. Hayden
The Rev. Robert B. Hedges
Mr Rockwood Jenkins
The Revd John W. Parker
The Reverend Jay R. Pierce
The Revd John F. Smith
The Rt Revd Morgan Porteus
The Revd Dr Christopher S. Rubel
The Right Revd R. Stewart Wood, Jr.
Ms Jeanette Renouf, D.Min., Ph.D.
Mr Lou S. Schoen
The Revd William S. Wade
The Revd Tom Woodward
Compiled by the Revd William B. Easter, with thanks to all the contributors.
For a brief biography of James Albert Pike see http://www.gracecathedral.org/enrichment/crypt/cry_20011114.shtml
Any who wish to submit their own recollections are invited
to send them to Bill Easter or to Pepper Marts.
Ms Amy Abercrombie
Athens County, Ohio
I never met Bishop Pike, but I heard about him a lot and had the impression that he was rather a maverick, a sensational type of skeptic who enjoyed being in the headlines. I lived briefly in southern California in the mid-60s. I did not see the bishop as someone who, with my orthodox views, could be a shining light to me. So I was surprised when I heard that my friend Patrick Russell, who was a Californian and was considering entering a monastery, told me this story.
He’d made an appointment to talk to the bishop about his vocation, and soon after entering into his presence there in his office, felt overcome by that very presence, and had the impulse to kneel. It wasn’t merely his status as bishop, but rather the persona of the man himself. The man had some kind of power that could be felt. I began to see another dimension of the bishop that took me quite by surprise, and led me to appreciate him much more.
The Revd Robert Brueckner
I met Bishop James Pike on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1960, at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City. I heard his outstanding sermon delivered with deep faith and conviction. His words reverberated so that they constantly come to mind even today: “I can’t explain to you the mystery of the Holy Trinity. But, I believe it. I can’t explain to you the mystery of the virgin birth – how the Holy Spirit hovered over the Virgin Mary, and ‘she gave birth to her first born Son.’ But I believe it.”
After the service, I shook hands with Bishop Pike at the church door on Park Avenue. I commended him on his moving sermon and his deep insight of faith in Christ. Since I was dressed in clergy garb, he asked me what my denomination was. I replied: “I am a Lutheran.” And Bishop Pike responded: “Those words coming from a Lutheran mean a great deal to me!”
I left St. Bartholomew’s and headed over to Fifth Avenue, where an Irish-American cop directed me to the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where I mingled with the Roman Catholic clergy and viewed the parade a few feet away from Cardinal Spellman.
The Revd Dr Kenneth R. Clark
In the late 60's Bishop Pike was keynote speaker at the Disciples annual state conference in Wichita Falls, Texas. I was in Vernon, Texas, at the time and the Episcopal clergy in Wichita Falls invited me to a meeting they had arranged with the bishop the afternoon of the speech. I could bring one layman so I invited Bill M. We met in a motel and the bishop chained smoked as he outlined what he thought were the major issues of the day. When he ran out of cigarettes he turned to Bill and asked him for some smokes, which he provided. The bishop told us about involvement in the civil rights movement and how he and others had confronted Bull Conner and his police dogs. He made great sport of the police chief (recall that Conner had attacked the marchers in Birmingham). When he paused to light another cigarette, Bill asked, “ Bishop, did you or any of those other clergy who were with you give any attention to Bull Conner’s immortal soul?” The bishop said, “ What is your name boy!” “ Bill, sir.” “Stand up Bill and let me shake your hand. You are the only one who has ever noticed that we were totally oblivious to Bull Conner’s needs.”
That evening, in a packed auditorium, the bishop gave a magnificent address. A standing ovation followed and when it died down, one of the Disciple ministers with a huge quivering voice shouted, “ What about Jesus?” Pike went to the microphone and said, “Sir, I just spent 30 minutes witnessing to my Lord Jesus Christ. I made 4 points (which he enumerated). That is what Jesus is about.” The second ovation was greater than the first.
A second story has to do with Bishop Quarterman of NW Texas and Bishop Pike. Despite the fact that they were often on opposite sides of issues, they were good friends. When Bishop Pike was asked to resign at a meeting of the provincial bishops in the Chicago airport, Bishop Quarterman was the only one (I was told) who sat with Bishop Pike while they waited for their planes to go home
A third has to do with the same two bishops shortly after we started celebrating facing the congregation. Bishop Quarterman was in San Francisco and went to the cathedral for Sunday worship. Bishop Pike was the celebrant. After the service he asked Bishop Quarterman how he liked the service. Bishop Quarterman said most was alright but that when Bishop Pike genuflected behind the altar he looked like he was bobbing for apples..
The fourth involves John Haverland, late dean of St. John’s Cathedral, Albuquerque. He was president of the Standing Committee in California when Bishop Pike was beginning his troubles. One day he met with the bishop in the cathedral. After they finished their business, the bishop said, “John, let’s put on our cassocks and stroll around the close. That’s what the old boys did.”
The Revd James R. Crowder
I spent time around Jim Pike while living in the Choir School on the grounds of the Cathedral of St, John the Divine in the summer of 1954. I spent 6 weeks attending the National Student YMCA Leadership School which was at Union Theological Seminary. Classes were at Union, along with daily worship in the chapel. Tillich and Niebhur were among those who gave homilies. Heady stuff for a college junior from MS State!
There were 24 or so college juniors from across the nation sent by their Y’s ( or Student Union) , who were the incoming presidents of their college Y or college Christian Associations. We had courses in program leadership and organizational leadership, Bible study, Christian ethics, and reflection on world and national issues from a Christian point of view.
During breaks we mingled with the seminarians over coffee. We were housed in the Cathedral Choir School dormitories and had meals in the school refectory, except on the weekends when we were on our own. In the first week we were there, Dean Pike came over to the Choir School to welcome us. He took us on a tour of the Cathedral to places not open to the public. Earlier we had been on the usual tour led by a docent. Then he had dinner with us in the Choir School and spent the rest of the evening with us. He answered questions about the Cathedral and the Episcopal Church , since only three of us were Episcopalians.
He also led us into a discussion about what constituted ministry , and used his famous phrase to describe his own vision of his own ministry. He said “ my job is to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable!” Well, you can imagine how this set off a group of college students from around the country who were from all points of view ! What fun!
Jim Pike was a real Pied-Piper. We went to the cathedral to head him preach a lot because he always stirred the pot. He was important to me in making the ministry a real possibility to consider. I am grateful to God for him.
Mr Richard W. Ditewig
San Francisco, California
I first knew of Bishop Pike in the early 1960's when I purchased A Time for Christian Candor”. I remember contacting him about the book and some very brief discussion followed. About 1965 I was living in Corvallis, OR and on one occasion he came to speak to a large crowd on the Oregon State University campus. He rambled quite a bit and later began repeating himself. The Rev. Leslie DeVore Dunton, then chaplain at the OSU Canterbury House, commented on this. Pike was anathema to the Rector of the Episcopal parish in Corvallis and was not invited to speak, preach or celebrate at the parish during his visit.
Circa 1967, at Stanford University’s Memorial Church, Pike spoke on the Viet Nam war, as opposition to it was reaching a feverish pitch. He urged the congregation, consisting mostly of Stanford students, not to let Gen. Hershey or President Johnson have undue influence as to whether or not to serve in what many deemed an illegal and unjust war.
About 1968, Pike and Alec Wyton had a dialog in Music/AGO, the national magazine for the American Guild of Organists. I was in touch with both men about what they said in the articles. In summary, they both felt that the church had been bound by tradition and needed to be more open to new expressions in the arts.
In September, 1969, I attended the requiem for Pike at Grace Cathedral. As Bill Stringfellow pointed out in his book about Pike, it was the first time in American history that a requiem for a Bishop had been performed in the presence of three surviving wives!
The Revd George H. Easter
Lyon Mountain, NY
When I was a graduate student in Oxford, I heard that [Bishop Pike] was to be speaking at the local equivalent of a Newman Center. As an admirer, I went along to hear him.
With his usual boldness and in that locale of all places, he declared that the Doctrine of the Trinity should be abandoned by the Church. He cited the razor argument of William of Occam: all unnecessary accretions should be “shaved away”. The idea of the Holy Trinity was excess baggage.
I parted company with this late version of Pike’s theology. For me the idea of the Trinity remains holy and critical, although I realize that nobody can prove any point of belief. Only God knows, and he hasn’t told me what is ultimately true.
That was long ago, in the late fifties or early sixties, and I do not remember any further detail. I hope that this will help you with your interesting project.
The Revd William B. Easter
It was in the early 1960s. Bishop Pike was in a small town in South Texas on a city-wide preaching mission, a role he had had earlier when he was Dean of St. John's Cathedral, NYC. The vestry and wives of the local Episcopal Church had a dinner in his honor at a larger home. During the dinner, the lively chatter ceased and the good Bishop was heard to say, “I can think of no theological reason why women should be precluded from ordination.” The silence continued and became awkward as all quietly took note that at that time women were not canonically eligible to serve on vestries or as delegates to diocesan convention. A change of subject was warmly welcomed.
Ms Jean M. Hayden
The request for stories of Bishop Pike in the January Episcopal Life recalled a long held memory I have of him. Back in the early 1950's I was a nursing student at St. Luke’s Hospital in NYC. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine was directly across the street from the hospital and for those of us who were Episcopalians, was usually our place of worship on Sundays when we were not on duty. Bishop Pike was then Dean Pike and we thought he was wonderful! It was nothing for him to get up in the pulpit before service to rehearse a new canticle or a new hymn or Mass music with the congregation that was there.
My most vivid memory was the Sunday after King Farouk was expelled from Egypt. Dean Pike entered the pulpit to preach the sermon and stood waving a copy of Time Magazine with the picture of the King on the cover. He began by asking “Is your House in Order?” and then proceeded to describe the Time article which detailed the mess that was found in the Palace after Farouk’s death, They found boxes of pornographic material, including dreadful pictures, sex “toys” and articles and apparently, the whole thing was totally disgusting and it was from there that he took his text: “Is Your house in order?” I have never forgotten the sermon that Sunday and the powerful message it contained as we prepare for the Larger Life.
I thought you might be interested! I have been married to my Priest husband( a student at GTS at the time, now retired) for almost 53 years and have shared that story for many years with both clergy and Bishops!
The Rev. Robert B. Hedges
San Angelo TX
I share a personal encounter with Bishop Pike, who was at the time Dean Pike at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Here is what happened:
It was the first part of October 1952. I had just returned from active duty in Korea and had just started my junior year at General Theological Seminary. I arrived just in time to start classes on September 26, 1952. My wife, who had preceded me to New York City had already discovered that the Rev. Dr. Julian Victor Langmead Casserley, the new professor of dogmatic theology at General and fresh from England, was giving a three-part series of lectures at the Cathedral House on three successive Sunday evenings. The series was entitled “The Genius of Anglicanism.” My wife, Carole, and I thought it would be interesting to hear Dr. Casserly, so we took the subway from Seminary to the Cathedral House. We hesitantly found our way to the Cathedral House and were warmly greeted by Dean Pike. We exchanged pleasantries briefly and found our seats to hear Dr. Casserley’s lecture.
Next Sunday evening we returned for the second lecture. Again we were greeted by Dean Pike who extended his hand and said “Hi, Bob and Carole Hedges. I am delighted to see you back for Dr. Casserley’s lecture.” Needless to say, we were speechless but extremely flattered that Dean Pike remembered us, especially our names. We saw him several times during our three-year stint at General, but I shall never forget his remarkable memory and his genuine warmth.
Mr Rockwood Jenkins (93 years old!)
The Church Home, Rochester, New York
Jim was our rector at the approximately 200-year-old Christ Church in Poughkeepsie, New York from about 1944 until 1950.
He followed the Rev. Alexander Griswold Cummins who was rector when we moved there in 1943. Mr. Cummins had helped found The Protestant Episcopal Church League to combat the influence of Anglo-Catholicism and owned and edited The Chronicle, the low church monthly Attendance at the 11 o’clock service usually numbered about twenty.
Then came the Rev. James Pike,, and it soon became difficult to find a place to sit. Church organizations came into being, a daycare nursery established, study groups the year round, life, vitality, spiritual growth, everywhere.
Although Pike episodes and influences are too many to begin to list (and remember) one which was particularly meaningful to my wife and me resulted in our friendship with a seminary student who Jim had come weekends named Paul Moore, later to become Bishop of New York. Countless other contacts through Jim made us privileged friends and admirers.
So, long live the positive memories of Jim Pike.
Thanks to Jim Blake, Stephen Minister, St. Paul’s Church, Rochester, New York; and the Rev. Dennis Wienk, Chaplain, The Church Home, Rochester, New York
The Revd John W. Parker
I was a grad student at Columbia in 1950-51 when James Pike was Chaplain there, and I was one of many servers at the altar of St. Paul’s Chapel. Two things I especially remember about him:
1. At that time the clergy at St. Paul’s wore crimson cassocks – which Pike explained they were entitled to, being attached to a Chapel Royal. He told us that the Chaplain at Columbia holds his commission from the Bishop of London, hence the royal designation. He loved the idea and seemed proud of it.
2. At one service that I did with him we were present at the altar and as he raised his hands for the opening collect he looked down and discovered he was still wearing his rubbers. He pushed me gently aside, went behind the altar (there was open space there), removed his rubbers, came back and we started again. After the service the assisting clergy asked him about the behind-the-altar routine. In a mock-pontifical tone of voice he said, “That is known as ‘The Removal of the Holy Rubbers.’”
Some years later when he was elected Bishop, I wrote congratulating him and asked if he remembered the incident. He wrote back and said he “certainly did.”
One of my seminary professors (and a friend of his) said that “Jim Pike is one of our more flamboyant bishops.”
The Reverend Jay R. Pierce
My introduction to Christian faith was in a Baptist congregation in a small southern town. Curiosity caused my departure around age 15 when I asked one too many questions of a charismatic preacher filled with the Spirit but low on facts and rational thought. For many years I didn’t darken the door of a church. I decided there was no intelligence to be found in such an ineffective institution. And, of course I believed my intelligence was limitless and directed by a profound belief in humanity.
All went well for many years – until I encountered a young man in Houston, TX while playing golf. We shared a cart, discussed the quality of the course and finally he bought beer (he lost the bet). It was only after several rounds that I finally discovered that he was an Episcopal priest. Religion had never come up as a topic of conversation. His absence of an attitude of “Brother, is you saved?” intrigued me. One Thursday he mentioned that the Bishop was coming to confirm at the church next Sunday, commenting, “Bishop Pike is worth seeing.” I was trapped by my ignorance – I’d never seen a bishop.
So, come Sunday morning I appeared, anxious and too early. I discovered the most serious social error was to appear early in church. More serious was to sin in front. Given some time to myself – save the periodic perusal of a man holding bulletins to be sure I wasn’t destructive to the old oak pews, I opened the Book Of Common Payer. The sound of music and a stirring of people who had slipped in as the procession appeared startled me. After the youngster carrying a too large cross, a choir and other folks I couldn’t identify, there appeared a man entirely happy to bring up the rear. He smiled, waved, bowed and certainly was the master of his silver stick. After the preliminaries it was finally time for the preacher – the center of all attention in the Baptist church.
Bishop Pike’s words struck home with the accuracy and hitting power of the weapons on the aircraft I flew when he said, “Most pain is caused by people whose ambition exceeds their abilities.” He developed his thesis with stories from political and economic sectors of life, and finally turned his attention to the spiritual realm. “We human beings are building devices out west to listen into outer space for sounds of intelligent life at the cost of millions and millions of dollars and years and years of waiting in silence.” He continued, “Would that we invest a little time and no money in listening to our Creator. Would that our ambition simply be to hear what has been the sounds of joy our Father placed in the heart of humanity from the first day of the process we represent today.”
I took the Prayer Book back to the Officers’ Quarters and did not close it until early the next morning – when the last page was read. Bishop Pike demonstrated a truth I was in search of: You don’t have to dumb down God or God’s creation. About a year later I was confirmed. Many years later I was ordained a priest.
The Rt Revd Morgan Porteus
Recorded and transcribed by The Revd John F. Smith (See article below.)
I met [Jim Pike] in Wellfleet, Massachusetts about 1951 or 1952. I went uptown one day and met Elizabeth Freeman, the sister-in-law of Chester Nimitz. In the course of the conversation she asked, “Have you met this Pike?” I said “No.” She said, “You will.” I didn’t know what she meant til later.
We went to church that Sunday with the Episcopal group formed by Jim. It was at the Congregational Church. There must have been about 75 people in attendance. Jim stood at the door at the end of the service, and not one single person got by without having a conversation with him. It was the most amazing experience; a pastor standing at the door meeting – really meeting – his congregation. He talked to everybody. He found out I was a priest (John Coburn was standing behind me) and I was immediately lined up to read a lesson the next Sunday. That’s what he did every Sunday, finding somebody to take part in the service the next week.
The time came that the members felt the congregation big enough to go out on its own. So they decided they’d build a chapel. The architect Olaf Hammerstrom was in Wellfleet so they got him involved. The congregation was growing, but I don’t know where they came from. Jim’s name got around quickly.
Pike was then still at Columbia as Chaplain. He stirred them to decide to build a chapel. The committee and Jim met often. Finally Olaf made a model. One Sunday after service we all went down the street to Elbert Blakeslee’s house to see it. I remember thinking of a building in terms of typical Cape Cod, but here was this square thing. Pike was jumping around, all excited. He came over and said, “What do you think?” and I said, “I think that’s the most awful looking building I ever saw.”
Typical Pike: two days later he was at my house wanting to know why I didn’t like the building. He heard me out and then he said, “I ought to tell you why we designed it that way. We all got together and decided that the one thing we do here on Sundays is break bread. and we ought to have a table in our midst so we can get people as close to the table as possible. We wanted it to be like a family gathered for a meal, so with Olaf we have come up with this idea.”
Then the time came to dedicate the ground. They were all very happy because only one pine tree was taken down on the lot to build the building. One Sunday morning he said “I want you to ride with me down to the Chapel site.” So I rode with him. He said “I want you to help me with this.” I said, “What do you want me to do?” He said, “I don’t know yet, but I’ll tell you.”
So we went up the hill and there were all these strings laying out the building. The time came and he started to read out of some book and all of a sudden he nudged me and handed me the book, so I read, and then he snatched the book away and went on and did his thing. And the ground was blessed!
About that time I had built a parish house at my own parish in Connecticut. We wanted to have a weekend to celebrate that accomplishment, so I asked him to come. He and Norman Pittenger had just finished The Faith of the Church (a book in the Church Teaching Series). He brought fifty copies with him so the first copies of that book were distributed in my parish. When he came that weekend he was sick but you would never know it. When he got in front of people he was simply fabulous. People just hung onto the pews until he was finished. A couple of years later he came and baptized my youngest child.
But back to the Cape. One Sunday he said “What are you doing this afternoon?” We said we weren’t doing much of anything. He said, “Come over and have a swim. We have a free afternoon.” He had a house at Gull Pond. So we went over, and there were five cars outside. I sneaked around the corner and looked at him and said to him, “I thought you said there would be no company.” And he said, “I don’t have any idea who these people are. Every week unknown people come here.” By then he had a reputation and people wanted to see him and there they were. The people left and we had a swim. When we came out he led me into the kitchen and he said, “There’s nothing like stepping out of a wet bathing suit into a dry martini.”
Then the chapel was built. I went to see what happened during a service and it began to make sense to me. The next summer we arrived in Wellfleet on a Friday. I wasn’t feeling well and was in bed when I heard his voice in the next room talking to my wife. Suddenly he appeared, smoking a cigarette as he always did and said, “You’re on on Sunday.” I tried to protest but all he did was turn around and walk out. So I was on my own trying to remember how the service went in that setting. It ended well, and I was moved.
Over the course of time I became the celebrant for the Sundays in August, and he was the preacher. At one point he decided we would use real bread. Somebody baked very nice small loaves of bread which were just enough with only a little bit left over. But somebody decided that wasn’t enough and the loaf should be bigger. So the loaf grew bigger and bigger. Nobody protested and Jim didn’t say anything. One Sunday he went to Watch Hill to preach. I was the celebrant at the Chapel They brought the bread and wine to the table. We normally took the loaf off the plate they brought it on and put it on the paten. But when I touched it, it seemed strange. It didn’t feel like a loaf of bread should feel. So I took the dish it was brought on and put it down and celebrated off it which was fortunate because when the time came to break the bread I broke it to find that the loaf was full of croutons. The baker had scooped out the inside, cut it all up, and put it back together again inside the crust.
The next Sunday I was to assist, Jim was to celebrate. When I got to the Chapel I said to him “There’s something I need to tell you.” And he said, “I can’t see you right now,” and he was off down the driveway getting someone to read the lessons and whatnot. I tried and tried, and the last time as we stood at the door waiting for the bell to ring I said, “I need to tell you something,” and he said, “Not now, not now.” There was no time after that, so when the time came for the bread and wine to come up, I went around to the side of the altar. I took the bread and put my hand on top of it. He said, “Take your hand off the bread,” and I said, “Just take it,” and he said “Take your hand off the bread.” I put it down. Everything went along all right until the time came to break the bread. He broke it with vigor. The croutons were all over the table and on the floor and everywhere. We scooped them up and things went along. When the service was over he said “Come on,” and ran over to the little vesting room. When we got inside he shut the door and started to laugh. He said, “When I did that all I could think of was, ‘Four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.’”
The liturgy then was nothing very spectacular – a good solid “low church” service. Then he began to talk about it and to add to it. I had had a year with Massey Shepherd and I learned a lot of historical things but no one ever sat down and said, “This is what we’re doing; this is what it means.” He did it and did it well: worship came alive.
Just about that time Associated Parishes came forth with a little booklet that they had called, “This is What We Say, This is What We Do, This is What We Mean.” That’s what Jim Pike did over and over again. Simple things that nobody had ever thought about were suddenly talked about and incorporated in the service, and it was really exciting. There were new discoveries over and over. My parish used to groan every September when I came home because they knew something new was going to happen.
The chapel became a leading experimental outpost of liturgical renewal in the Episcopal church. It was recognized as such. He was given latitude to do things and information was funneled to us from time to time – different kinds of prayers of the people etc..
Jim’s sermons were extremely important. Sometimes you were certain he wrote them in the car as Esther drove him over from the pond. But they were always alive and full of information and challenging. John Coburn used to say, “Jim Pike has three points every Sunday. Usually you listen to the first point and say, ‘Yes, I’ve heard that before.’ When he comes to the second point, you say ‘Well yes, I have heard that, too’; but the third point was always pure Pike.” They were short, rapidly given; he was always rubbing his nose and throwing his hair back. He was a good preacher, a captivating preacher. We used to have people standing outside waiting to hear him. They weren’t all Episcopalians either.
When the time came and he announced that he was a candidate for bishop I remember sitting down and writing him a long letter begging him not to do that. The reason was that he was on the front page of the New York Times every other week. Cardinal Spellman was on interim times. But the best spokesman the Episcopal Church had in those days was Jim Pike. The New York Cathedral was alive and made you feel that the church was really alive.
After he’d been Bishop of California for a while he came back for a meeting in NY. A group of people at the University of Connecticut asked him to come and so we went to hear him. He was staying at the airport so I arranged to take him there after the talk. By the time we came out it was snowing a blizzard. We got in the car, and hit the main road back to Hartford slowly. He sat kitty-corner on the front seat smoking one cigarette after another and talking and laughing as he did. We finally made the airport. When he opened the door he said, “Great Scott, it’s been snowing!”
Near the end of his life he came back to Yale to speak at a gathering at the University and the next day to be at Berkeley Divinity School. That night there were so many people out to hear him that they had to open up the theater at Yale and it was filled. He wasn’t sharp like I’d heard him before. It was old rehashed stuff. He talked about up being up or down being down and never seemed to put much meat on it. He was rebutted by a professor of philosophy at Yale who did quite a job of pulling him down. But then my neighbor and Methodist minister in Cheshire, Julian Hart, who was professor of theology at Yale stood up. Julian had a mind like a razor and he stood there and absolutely peeled Jim Pike alive. It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen. There was no real response. He didn’t connect; he didn’t argue. It was all done quietly and it was all over.
He was to preach at Berkeley the next day. I couldn’t go. I had a DRE who was taking courses there. When she got back in the afternoon she said “I’m glad you couldn’t come. The place was filled with people. He didn’t use the pulpit, as usual. He started to talk and said, ‘There are six things I’d like to say this morning.’ When he finished the third there was a long silence and he said, ‘Sorry, I can’t remember the rest.’ And he sat down.” The last time I saw him was at the General Convention. He was nervous, looking around and pacing back and forth. He was obviously some place else.
I was a real admirer of him and I still am. He had something very exciting to say and was able to deliver it. Some of his books were excellent. For example, The Last Day is a classic book, I think, and a helpful book in my parish.
I count it a great privilege to have known him and I’m sorry life ended the way it did for him. I don’t know what happened. The days I choose to remember were the great days of the birth of St. James Chapel which came into being through his effort.
He was certainly a hard drinker. Then there came a time when he joined AA. He was a violent supporter. One of the bishops who led the move against Pike to have him condemned as a heretic had a drinking problem. One day Jim was sitting in a restaurant and saw this man sitting alone. Jim got up and went over to have a conversation and tried to persuade him to join AA. That was the man I knew. He was on the go all the time; it was fabulous to watch; he was very exciting to know.
He was so different at the end than he was earlier. It was amazing to watch him in the early days of the Chapel. He corralled people from everywhere. Bill Wenneman was the Warden. He was a lawyer too, a testy man, and Pike dealt with him in a very open, wonderful way. There was no combat. Jim Pike was the leader of this congregation and that was all there was to it. He was in the middle of everything that went on, auctions and other events to raise money for the Chapel. He had ideas to give and they never seemed to end. There was always a fresh approach. At one point he said, “You know, we don’t need a new prayer book, we have to begin to understand and use the one we’ve got.”
Some times on a Sunday morning as he’d preach all of a sudden he’d stop and in a while he’d say “That’s it.”
If there is an image of him, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way at all, it is of Pied Piper. If Pike walked down the street, people would follow, they couldn’t resist. Nor could I. Religion was alive. Worship was alive and real. He opened doors for me and I will always be grateful.
The Revd John F. Smith
If there’s one thing I’d like to say about Pike it is a memory of a conversation I had with my seminary tutor, Owen Thomas (who was prof. at ETS, later EDS). Owen was, I think, baptized by Pike, anyway was quite close to him. Owen said that Pike had insisted to him that he (Pike) was in fact a heretic on the doctrine of the Trinity. (So long ago!) Thomas pointed out that Pike in fact stood in the great Western tradition of Augustine, Thomas, Luther and Calvin, emphasizing the majesty and oneness of God. It was the third-rate others who didn’t know their theology. Pike rejected this, insisting that he was indeed a heretic. The thinking is that for some reason he wanted to be a heretic. Morgan Porteus (see article above) remarked that Pike wanted to top Honest to God, but never made it. By the time he got to it it was old hat. Of course, today the pre-enlightenment mind-set is all the rage like the old cook in, I think, Lear, who is making soup of eels who keep popping their heads out of the pot. She hits them with the spoon saying, “Down, ye wantons!”) That’s what’s behind the story about the talk at Yale… that and the drinking, I think. (Jack’s free analysis.)
The Revd Dr Christopher S. Rubel
I first met Bishop James A. Pike at Michael Murphy’s Esalen Institute, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the beautiful Big Sur, California. The year was 1965. A flock of us, mostly seminarians and clergy, attended a four-day conference with Bishops Pike and John A. T. Robinson (and Robinson’s outspoken, free-thinking wife) on the “Honest to God Debate.” I was then thirty-years-old, married with two kids, attending the Southern California School of Theology, Claremont, California, (now Claremont School of Theology) and a candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church at the time. What an exciting time that was! Part of the excitement had to do with the larger cultural revolution of the 1960's. But, there was a tectonic shift in the shape of religion happening, too. It was an optimistic time. Many of us had hopes of a major change in consciousness, perhaps the coming of the Age of Aquarius. It was before the shooting of John Kennedy and many of us had new, idealistic hope, and existential courage to make changes.
Jim Pike, perhaps a forerunner to Bishop Spong, Bill Coffin, and other provocative Christian voices, had published his trilogy: A Time for Christian Candor, What is This Treasure, and If This Be Heresy. About the same time, 1963, Bishop Robinson wrote Honest to God. Then O. Fielding Clarke wrote For Christ’s Sake, a reply to Robinson. The so-called debate was off and running; the debate thrived. Many of us felt inspirited on that “cutting edge” and we were bathing in refreshing baptismal waters.
My particular initial memory of both Pike and Robinson includes sitting in a hot tub at Esalen, naked, and discussing various theological matters. As I recall, there were five of us in this particular hot tub and Jim Pike was about to have a wonderful massage by one of Esalen’s most accomplished and splendidly erotic masseuses. I have a photo of Jim Pike walking toward me after that massage, looking like a dishrag, more relaxed than he’d been in ages. Jim Pike would not be described as a relaxed man. Usually, with two or three cigarettes going at the same time, one in his mouth, one in the ashtray, and getting ready to light another after his fourth cup of coffee, he waxed eloquently with a meandering flowing stream of thoughtful consciousness. I experienced Jim as one who got on his horse and rode off in all directions, always ending up at the barn. The listener, if attentive, could follow his thinking through the labyrinth of his thoughts, and have a fine, stimulating, informative journey.
One of those Esalen evenings, about twenty of us had carried on with both bishops until about midnight, in something akin to a Martin Buber dialogue. I was carried along on this heady wave. I was searching then and still in what Unamuno would describe as the “agony of Christianity” at its best, trying to find my way toward priesthood, struggling with Tillich and Luther and the quest for the historical Jesus. My professors included John Cobb and James Robinson and my seminary, under a progressive New Testament scholar, President Pomp Caldwell, was dedicated to biblical criticism and an intellectual, scholarly foundation to all religious and vocational matters. Jim Pike, especially, his Candor and If This Be Heresy, fit right into my needs at the time. (Not much later, Fr. James Kavanaugh wrote A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church. Those of us who struggle – a la Don Miguel de Unamuno – in our relationship to the institution of the church have plenty of sources to give voice and content to our struggle.
He must have sensed this that night of our informal seminar. I remember breaking up from that group and going to my cabin bunk. About a half hour after going to bed, I was awakened by someone shaking me. “Chris! Wake up, Chris!” It was Jim. He had an intense request. (Wasn’t he almost always intense?) “We’re having Holy Communion at sunrise and you’re going to be my acolyte,” he ordered. Though groggy, I immediately accepted. I felt with that request I had somehow become an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church. It was one of the most powerful moments of deeply felt acceptance, mixed with my large need of being wanted. I think I was awake the rest of that night, feeling I’d been visited by an angel.
Years later, Jim Pike was again very important to me, personally. It was 1967 and I had just finished my doctoral work at SCST. I was about to be ordained a deacon in the Los Angeles Diocese of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Francis Eric Bloy was then Bishop of the L.A. Diocese. Bishop Bloy got news of my impending divorce and sent me a terse, rejecting note (via his secretary) that I would not be ordained, as scheduled, and I was to be dropped from Candidacy because of my divorce from a seventeen-year marriage. It was a terrible time in my life and I was on the ropes. In retrospect, I had no business becoming a deacon or a priest being in the dark emotional state of dissolving a marriage.
It was at this time, however, Bishop Pike once again touched me in a very caring, pastoral way. He called me, having somehow heard I was dropped by Bloy. We talked for about twenty minutes on the phone. He later sent me a note, offering in writing what he had offered in that phone call. He called from his office at the Santa Barbara Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. I remember the call roughly as follows: “Chris, this is Jim Pike. I’ve just heard of your divorce and how Eric Bloy has dropped you. I want you to come up and see me in Santa Barbara. I’d like to ordain you here, if there’s a way to work it out and you’re willing.” It was an astounding offer at a crucial time in my life. I remember crying during that phone call and he stayed with me until I got control of myself. He repeated his offer, but I told him I was going to back away from the church for at least a while. It didn’t seem right for me to go around “my bishop” in this way. So, I didn’t accept his offer, but have never forgotten his pastoral and loving help at a crucial time for me.
I think Jim Pike had an interest in those days of collecting broken, confused, lost clergy or “wanna be clergy” like myself. There was a rumor he wanted to start an Order for Lost Sheep of sorts and he would be our Bishop. It was a very attractive idea and there certainly was a need. Margarita Bowers, M. D., had written her book, Conflicts of the Clergy, which I had used as a source in my doctoral dissertation. However, I was by this time a licensed psychotherapist with a going practice (talk about the blind leading the blind) had become acquainted with Fritz Perls and no longer had need of the church, having become an ardent existentialist. Jim Pike knew all that and yet wanted me in the fold, his fold, and, I think, Christ’s own fold.
About 1973, I met Diane Kennedy Pike. A friend, Keith Kerr, then living in Santa Barbara, called me and invited me to spend the weekend with him, his wife, and two house guests. It turned out, one of the two house guests was Diane and we had a very gratifying weekend with lots of conversation and the excitement of what Diane and her partner were creating, a center in San Diego. This meeting came long after Jim had died in the desert, having run out of gas and wandered for help only to die of hyperthermia. Jim and Diane had gone to Jerusalem to learn more about Qumran, part of their passionate spiritual and historical search. Diane, wrote Search: The Personal Story of a Wilderness Journey, in 1969, in order to better cope with her grief and to understand and integrate the trauma of that fatal journey. Diane K. Pike, Jim’s beloved widow, was truly a loving, enlivening, and true companion to Jim and I was privileged, seemingly by accident, to have spent that weekend with her and her partner.
Writing these memories has been rewarding for me and I wish to thank The Rev. William B. Easter for his requesting such memories as these about this most remarkable and complex man – the bishop, lawyer, priest, pastor, scholar, creative thinker, husband, father (a grieving father, at that), and friend to many, Jim Pike.
The Right Revd R. Stewart Wood, Jr.
I don’t recall Paul Moore sharing stories of Jim Pike while I was in earshot. I do recall a story I heard from his time at the congregation in Poughkeepsie. It was a funeral service for which he was the officiant, and while standing in the sacristy with some kind of mike on for the hard of hearing he was heard to instruct the funeral director at the entrance of the church to “Let her roll!” Or was it that he had his mike on while relieving himself in the sacristy toilet. In either case it’s a believable story that could just as well been told about us.
During my senior year at Dartmouth Jim came as a speaker for a required course called, Great Issues. He was spectacular on Monday evening and then again at the Q&A on Tuesday morning. I think he gave a number of classmates a reason to look once again at the Christian faith.
Ms Jeanette Renouf, D.Min., Ph.D.
My special memory of Bp. Pike goes back to the 1960's, well before I was an Episcopalian. The American Bar Association was having its Annual Meeting at the Disneyland convention complex in Anaheim, CA and Bp. Pike was to be one of the featured speakers. I was, at that time, married to an attorney and it was my job to pick the Bp up from the airport and entertain him until it was time for him to speak. This was most of the afternoon.
He decided that he wanted to wear a shirt and tie for the dinner but had forgotten to bring a tie, so the two of us went shopping for a tie. His purple shirt was full of holes where he had let his cigarette ashes drop down the front of him. I’m sure it was a miracle that he had not set himself on fire, the shirt was almost like lace it was so full of holes. He talked non-stop most of the afternoon and was totally fascinating. His mind and its grasp of so many areas of interest was
He wore his new tie at dinner that night after which he spoke to a rapt audience of attorneys and their spouses. It was a day I will long remember, being in the presence of such a brilliant and challenging man.
Mr Lou S. Schoen
The 1960's were a time of testing for anyone in the USA possessed of an inquiring mind or a social conscience. The decade led me into a final military experience, marriage, post-graduate learning, six career changes, nine homes, civil rights demonstrations, the peace movement, party politics – and the Episcopal Church.
The backlash had not yet emerged and the Civil Rights Revolution seemed to be neutralizing a systemic contradiction that had plagued the national psyche and legal system from their founding. The movement itself was transforming into a force for peace and economic justice. Science was delivering fresh insights on matters ranging from the human embryo to the extent of the universe. And theologians were “coming out” in explorations begun a century before but intensified by study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, to let inquirers know that sacred texts said more – and sometimes less or other – than they’d thought. Holes were appearing in Christian dogma. Spirituality was freed. Psychic phenomena were explored.
Amidst it all was the Rt. Rev. James Pike, writing and speaking and exploring fresh ways of thinking about faith and life.
Far on the sidelines, at a broadcasting station in Omaha, I was reporting some of the changes while re-examining what it all meant for my studies, my career, my life, my faith, and my brand new marriage to a lifelong Episcopalian.
After the wedding, I had taken only a few weeks to acknowledge, while joining her at Missouri Synod Lutheran new member instruction, that that Bible-centered, studious but formidably doctrinaire denomination was no longer a place for me, much less for her.
Whether Episcopalianism could claim me was another question. I struggled with it for more than four years. Most of the congregations we attended seemed friendly enough, for the most part, but often dull and wholly out of touch with the social trauma and much of the intellectual inquiry around us. Among those who led me to find it potentially accepting, nevertheless, was Bishop Pike, although I never saw him personally. From published articles and news accounts, I was fascinated with his inquiring mind, and encouraged that he could become a Bishop in this church.
Not long after I discovered him, his son’s suicide and their reported communication during a séance, then his resignation from the Diocese of California caught my sympathy and fascination. Then, that beautiful mind was accused of heresy and brought to trial by the House of Bishops.
Now, for me, this uncomfortably hierarchical church began to feel out of the question. Could I lead my wife, who loved the Episcopal liturgy and authority, back to my own baptismal roots in the German Evangelical and Reformed tradition, now part of the populist-governed United Church of Christ? The Methodist Church in which I’d grown up was another possibility, but my memory chafed at the narrowly focused emphasis I’d heard there, as a teen, on the sins of drinking and dancing.
Our faith became ever more challenged and, with it, for a time, the health and joy of our marriage. In spite of the struggle, I kept attending an Episcopal church. Finally, the news wires reported that Bishop Pike was acquitted, and would be allowed to retain his consecrated credentials.
I took a deep breath, and exhaled in relief at the news, and my wife exclaimed with joy at my response. If the Episcopal Church was big enough for Bishop Pike, I observed, it was big enough for me.
The following week, I enrolled in a new member class at All Saints Church in Omaha. It was just another boring church with little evidence of awareness of Pike, much less of the peace and civil rights movements. Still, since I had been forced, years earlier, to accept re-confirmation to become a Missouri Synod Lutheran during a failing engagement to a woman of that tradition, I would insist upon re-confirmation once more as an Episcopalian. The process seemed important as I sought the boundaries of the enlightenment which Bishop Pike, from his great cultural and institutional distance, had begun to reveal to me.
By the time it was clear that the church was too small for him, I had found my way into the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity and become acclimated to an intriguing dimension of the church. That led me into the women’s ordination movement, the Peace and Justice Network, Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation, and a role today in anti-racism training and organizing.
The struggle continues, but I feel blessed by a marvelously encompassing tradition.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
The Revd William S. Wade
In Bishop Jefferts Schori’s article, “Evangelistic Listening,” which appeared in the January 2007 edition of Episcopal Life, this statement caught my attention:
“Let me suggest a challenging exercise: How would you tell the great truths of our faith without using overtly theological language? How would you tell a new neighbor that God loves him or her’ without measure, and invite him or her to learn more?”
I was also struck by your request for vignettes or stories about Bishop Pike.
While a seminarian at Virginia Seminary, probably during Lent of 1967 or 1968, I attended a Lenten service in which Bishop Pike preached at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington. I remember that the church was full and that I and some other seminarians were seated in the chancel. I do not remember the content of Bishop Pike’s sermon, but I do remember that in the middle of his sermon a homeless woman staggered into the chancel area of the church. She was clearly disoriented and did not know where to go. Those of us seated there sat quietly, not sure what to do. Suddenly, Bishop Pike turned, and seeing the disoriented homeless woman, left the pulpit and walked down to help her. I cannot remember exactly what he did, but it became clear to me that his actions towards her did what the Presiding Bishop is asking of us. Bishop Pike’s interruption of his sermon and movement towards this woman were clearly an example of how I and others could “tell a new neighbor that God loves him or her without measure, and invite him or her to learn more.” What a powerful witness Bishop Pike was that day, and what a lasting impression his actions had on me.
The Revd Tom Woodward
Santa Fe, NM
When addressing the New York State Bar Association, Bishop Pike raised the question: “If you are a young associate in a large firm and a Senior Partner assigns you a task which is important to the partners, but you believe it is immoral, what do you do?” The responses were all the same, “You do what the Senior Partner tells you to do.” Bishop Pike responded, “Isn’t it remarkable how similar the legal profession is to the oldest profession?”
During the early 70's when the “Death of God” people were the rage, Bishop Pike appeared at several university campuses to debate Thomas Alzheiser and other theologians of that school. Inevitably, after the public debate, the moderator would ask the students and faculty who had most persuaded them to his point of view. It was always Jim Pike, the one defending or proclaiming traditional Christianity.
At the midnight Christmas Eve service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, at a time when charges of heresy were being noised about, Bishop Pike entered the pulpit to preach and found himself surrounded on three sides with greenery and candles. Noting the burning candles, he said, “I thought I would have a trial first!”
When one of his priests, Bob Cromey, had taken a public decision in favor of the church’s inclusion of gay men and lesbian women, four of the wealthiest men in the diocese came to the bishop’s office. They said to Pike, “We want you rein in and discipline that priest of yours. If you don’t, we are prepared to withdraw our annual contributions to the support of the diocese by $300,000.” The bishop stood up and said, “I suspected you would be coming. I need to tell you I will do no such thing with Fr. Cromey – I support him completely. I need you to know that in anticipation of your visit today, I have set aside more than enough money to replace what you intend to withhold. Good-bye, gentlemen.”
Jim Pike had a passion for making the Gospel of Jesus Christ compelling and understandable by people inside and outside the church – and so was constantly reaching for metaphors and new ways of couching the story. On the one hand, several were after him for heresy – on the other hand, with Norman Pittenger he wrote the book on the belief of Episcopalians for the Church’s Teaching Series – a more orthodox presentation of the Christian faith you will not find.
Unfortunately, in his last days he was consumed by those years of passion for evangelism that had him living on the edge, by the physical addiction to alcohol and by the loss of his son. Those of us who watched him go downhill were hurt, deeply; but the good the man did for the sake of Jesus Christ out on the frontiers of the church’s concern for justice and for the minds of young people and in the marketplace of ideas was enormous, simply enormous. I know the drunk stories – they are more public than the stories most of us would like to have remain hidden about ourselves, but they must never be allowed to diminish the good he did.
The way Jim Pike was always on the edge, always on the move could very well be traced to a form of ADD. It was not much diagnosed in those days. He was brilliant and he was concerned for the church and for the Gospel. May he rest in peace, the peace he seldom found in all of his activism. And may his name be found among the saints.
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