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Re: +Jack Spong
Regarding Jack Spong:
> I don't idolize him, either. I also don't
> idolize those I compared him with. I simply
> believe he is one of the leading voices
> of progressive Christianity in our time.
> And he has taken the heat for that role.
> For that he deserves our gratitude. That's all.
> From what I have heard, I am not at
> all certain that I would have wanted to work
> under Jack's episcopate.
I don't idolize +Jack either. He and I disagree on numerous issues, and
occasionally enjoy spirited, respectful conversation about those
disagreements. I am high church; he is snake belly low. He struggles
valiantly with parts of the creed that I could pass with a lie detector.
He lives far more faithfully than I do...
More often we spend our time together enjoying each other's company and
sharing our great passions for Scripture, for the church, and for the
I served with +Jack during the most turbulent years of his episcopacy. He
was my bishop during the first four of my eight years on the Standing
Committee. I served on Diocesan Council with him for four years before
that. I have received Eucharist from his hands on dozens of occasions,
all of them holy. What a great blessing!
I spend far more time with bishops than most lay people do, and I know
several hundred by sight and name. I like most of them, especially some
with whom I fervently disagree. Perhaps the bonds of affection are
increased because I belong to another profession which still wears
medieval clothing for special occasions. Zany pageantry may be part of
the bonding, though of all bishops, I cannot name one more disinterested
in copes and miters than my friend +Jack.
I am puzzled when some speak of +Jack's arrogance. As a leader he is
strong and forthright. He speaks his understanding of the truth boldly,
and he honors those who respond in kind. That is not arrogance; that is
Privately +Jack is one of the most humble bishops I know, and one of the
least pretentious. I have been with him in secular settings, such as a
dinner of the NJ Coalition for LBGT Rights, where he and Christine are
completely comfortable listening, not expecting to be the center of
attention, not waiting for Anglophiliacs to kiss his ring. He and
Christine are far more comfortable in a room full of gay and lesbian folk
talking about art, politics, or literature, than they are in a banquet
hall of bishops talking about institutional maintenance.
Ernest and I have often been in Christine's and Jack's home for dinner,
most recently with one other gay couple on this last Thanksgiving.
Several times the other guests have been lesbians and gays from other
parts of the globe who have taken the Spongs up on their offer of
hospitality while in the United States. Sometimes the guests are
atheists. The crowd is never boring. Jack and Christine are gourmet
cooks and move quietly as servants among us, occasionally asking a
question, never expecting adulation.
Several priests who thought +Jack not very approachable while he was our
Ordinary were surprised to discover when he left how approachable he had
been. +Jack had one of the first car phones of anyone in the diocese.
When he drove through your zip code, he would call, ask about your
children by name, know what year they were in school or at the University,
know what their majors were.... When you were sick or a member of your
family had a crisis, +Jack was there. One of his sometime adversaries
told me she was thinking of hiring a skywriter to fly over Morris Plains,
where the Spongs live, writing in the sky, "Come back! Come back! All is
Several times I served on his advisory team to suggest how much money from
his discretionary fund should go to each clergy child who had requested
scholarship assistance. The other advisor and I would study the
applications thoroughly, but at our meeting +Jack hardly had to review the
applications. He knew not only the details, but the people, by heart. He
knew who had the greatest need. It made no difference if the applicants
were children of his public adversaries. It would have been completely
out of character for him to punish them for the disagreements he had with
their parents. +Jack took special delight in holding up the intellect of
all the applicants.
A few clergy resented +Jack's great expectations of them. He is a fierce
task master on himself; he rises early, devotes hours to study, and never
shirks on any of his administrative responsibilities. He lives
expectantly, hoping that clergy under his care will be devoted to their
work as well. He typically arrived at an annual visit with the full data
on the parish for the last two decades. He expected clergy to give an
account of what was happening, and especially encouraged Christian
education. He expected clergy to continue their education. He initiated
two lecture series a year while he was here, and he brought some of the
most engaging minds of our time here to try to stimulate clergy and laity.
+Jack does not walk on water. He wounded some people I care deeply
about, especially before his conversion to be supportive of lesbigay
people. He writes about that in is autobiography. Only in heaven will
some of those wounds be healed.
I hope that +Jack will be with us many, many more years. At +Jack's
funeral will be said the same words that will be said at the funeral of
each of us, "Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold,
a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming."
I love my friend, my colleague, my co-disciple, and my shepherd. He has
often brought me into the presence of Jesus.