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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.


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