Pastoral as well as radical, Bishop Spong gave priests ‘room to exist’

by Msnbctv news staff

(RNS) — I used to be two months into my first job as a freshly ordained deacon in an Episcopal church outdoors of Newark, New Jersey, when a diocesan official let me know that I used to be overdue for the customary new-clergy-in-the-diocese assembly with the bishop.

I had been hesitant to fulfill Bishop John Shelby “Jack” Spong, who died Sunday (Sept. 12) on the age of 90, as a result of I used to be afraid that my time within the Diocese of Newark — and maybe my dream of ordination to the priesthood — would rapidly finish once I shared with him that I used to be a lesbian. I needn’t have anxious: He ordained me to the priesthood at once.

The Diocese of Newark, the place Jack served as bishop for twenty-four years, was an thrilling place to be within the mid-Eighties, partially due to how he noticed his function. “If the church is right here,” he would say, holding one hand someplace to the proper, “I believe the bishop must be right here,” stretching far to the left. “That’s so the clergy have a number of room to exist in right here,” he would end, as he waved his hand throughout the expanse in between.

And “exist” we did, as we wrestled with foundational theological ideas and strongly held beliefs that have been everywhere in the map. It was inconceivable to not be shaped ultimately by Jack if you happen to have been a priest in his diocese in these days.

RELATED: Bishop John Shelby Spong, firebrand who championed LGBTQ inclusion, has died

The area he created for stretching boundaries was not solely theoretical. In the future Jack known as to ask me to dinner when a notoriously conservative bishop was going to be on the town. “He doesn’t consider that girls needs to be clergymen,” Jack mentioned, “so I’m going to be sure you’re seated collectively and you’ll change his thoughts!” (Alas, I didn’t.)

Bishop John Shelby Spong in 2006. Picture by Scott Griessel/Wikipedia/Inventive Commons

Jack loved entertaining and located many alternatives to assemble pals, colleagues, visiting bishops and visitor lecturers for meals, at house or at a restaurant. He liked to inform tales about his cooking prowess, and concerning the new expertise he was gaining within the kitchen. We laughed when he advised us the story of how he discovered that potatoes wanted to be poked earlier than baking — and the prolonged cleanup that taught him why.

When Jack’s first spouse died, in 1988, a bunch of younger clergy received collectively and determined to type an advert hoc assist group for him. We known as ourselves the Bishop’s Reduction Affiliation (the acronym was BRA; we gathered for uplift and assist) and we devised wild and loopy plans to assist distract him from his loss. (He drew the road at a scorching air balloon trip). Principally it concerned the nice meals and vigorous dialog that have been one other aspect of his ministry.

That very same yr, when my associate, Becky, and I felt able to make a lifelong dedication to one another, we approached Jack about officiating at a dedication service we have been planning. Would he be keen to officiate at a lesbian or homosexual couple’s union? There definitely weren’t many clergymen who would in these days, not to mention bishops of the church. However a number of months later, with 60 of our family and friends as witnesses, he officiated at his first dedication service and blessed our union.

RELATED: Bishop Spong: Theology with out restrict or sure

The general public image of Jack might be skewed by his typically radical theology; he’s typically seen as searching for notoriety greater than pastorality. However some years after I left the Diocese of Newark for a church within the Midwest, Becky’s mom was murdered. Jack, who had checked in incessantly on the couple he’d married, walked that journey with us, too, calling us inside hours of our arrival at Becky’s mom’s house, and remembering to name on the anniversary of her dying for years to return. 

I keep in mind what my job search was like once I was on the point of graduate from seminary. As a lady, and a lesbian, I knew I would wish a supportive bishop if I had any hope of ordination and in 1985 these bishops have been exhausting to return by. What I by no means imagined was that along with a supportive bishop I’d get such a brave, pastoral and deeply devoted mentor and pal, too. For Jack Spong I’ll all the time be grateful.

(The Rev. Cynthia Black is rector of the Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, New Jersey. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially replicate these of Faith Information Service.)

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